Luis Bravo and Cheryl Burke charge the wildly popular Forever Tango with culture and electricity.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Tango, born a hybrid in the barrios and bordellos of teeming, multi-cultural Argentina in the late 1800s, among European and Caribbean immigrants, Gypsies and native people, was once danced as a prelude to sex, equal parts angry and lustful and proud. That art form, once derided and sniffed at by the civil classes as crude, heathen and taboo, has somehow come to silence its critics, win admirers worldwide, and take a hallowed place in culture. How that happened is the story that Luis Bravo, creator of the traveling dance and music revue Forever Tango, wants to tell.
As the show’s producer, director, artistic director and cellist, he’s been the catalyst for a great deal of the dissemination of the Argentinian export of late – to the tune of 6 million viewers over 20 years, from their first engagement at Symphony Hall in San Diego in 1990. He’s had much help.
“I’m working with the best performers you can find,” he says, just one hour to showtime in a three-week return to San Francisco. They would include eight musicians on piano, violin, viola, double bass, himself on cello and several on bandoneon, a German-derived hand organ similar to an accordion. Martin de Leon sings in Spanish. And then there’s the dozen dancers, in groups and in pairs, who dance the history of the tango, as interpreted by them and Bravo.
“Every couple has their own routine, their own style and form… a little storyline,” Bravo says. “From the time tango was born, from the time it was danced as a fight with a knife, from the 1910s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, 1970s… It’s very difficult to describe in words. It’s like art – non-speaking.”
The music, though, he finds words for more readily.
“[It’s] very melancholic, mournful, sarcastic, aggressive. Very beautiful. Very Argentinian.”
As is the cast, says Bravo, who, after shows eat and drink late: “We never go to bed until four in the morning. An artist’s life.”
One key exception to the Argentinian national character of the show lies in 26-year-old San Francisco native Cheryl Burke.
Dancing seems to occupy a really possessive amount of Burke’s life. She began ballet when she was 4 and ballroom at 11. When she was 10, she saw Bravo’s show in her native San Francisco and it only fortified her will to dance.
She doesn’t dabble in other arts: “My whole life I went to school and danced,” she says.
Well, all that tunnel vision and singular work ethic is paying off big. She’s a two-time champion of Dancing With the Stars – partnering with ex-Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and former 98 Degrees boy-band alum Drew Lachey – and is the featured dancer of Bravo’s show.
“[Emmitt’s] charisma was amazing,” she says. “I’m not a big sports person. I know he’s good at what he does.”
She was sick at interview time but said she would dance that night, saying that unlike a singer, she can “cough while performing.”
But despite the rigor and determination she’s undergone, she says, “I never thought it would end up like this. Twenty-five million people watching [Dancing with the Stars] every week. People who want to take your picture, ask you questions. It’s great to be known for something you’ve worked so hard for.”
FOREVER TANGO is performed at 7:30pm Thursday, Jan. 13, at Golden State Theatre at 417 Alvarado St., Monterey.$45-$70. 372-3800, 372-4555, www.goldenstatetheatre.com.