Tanguera – Sadler’s Wells, London

Musical Direction: Lisandro Adrover
Director: Omar Pacheco
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

‘The underworld was law, and love was something you paid for’ – this is Buenos Aires at the start of the 20th Century where a host of hopeful immigrants crossed paths with dock workers and gangsters in the cafes and brothels near the harbour. Gerardo Gardelin, Diego Romay and Dolores Espeja decided that this was the perfect setting for their 2002 ‘tango musical’ Tanguera, and now bring this tragic tale of seduction and destruction to Sadler’s Wells.

Fresh off the boat from France, the beautiful and innocent Giselle instantly falls for dock worker Lorenzo, but as the pair depart, Giselle is lured away by local crook Gaudencio who takes her for his lover. Forced to work in one of his cabaret shows, Giselle resigns herself to a life of sleazy men and prostitution. But Lorenzo refuses to give her up, and as Giselle’s rivals encounter one another again and again, violence ensues.

The concept of a ‘tango musical’ is initially an odd one, as the soaring melodies and romanticism of Broadway-influenced musical theatre dominate the early part of this show. With its choreographed people milling around the boat, at first it all seems a million miles away from the passionate tango stories we’ve come to know. But be patient, once the immigration love story is established with some subtle multicultural choreography, the light and jaunty feel is quickly replaced by the dangerous intensity of proper tango.

Director Omar Pacheco creates a cartoon world of entrapped princesses, evil villains and dashing heroes that doesn’t allow for much light and shade within the characters but offers plenty of substance in the dancing. Across the production, there is a carefully controlled mix of intricate speed delivered with incredible precision by the dancers and slower placed movements that signal the frequent swelling and subsiding tension in the story. And the tango itself is used to convey very different experiences in these moments – love, fear, anger, hate, captivity, seduction and as provocation – which choreographer Mora Godoy designs with a lovely clarity.

There are some wonderful set-piece moments as the show moves to various locations but best among them is a long nightclub scene in which Gaudencio’s men engage in a brutal dance-off with Lorenzo’s colleagues, using the ladies of the club as their partners, each trying to outdo the other with solos and full company dances that build an uncontrollable rivalry between the men. Lit beautifully by Ariel Del Mastro in cool blues and sultry reds, in Valeria Ambrosio’s shabby cabaret set, it’s the centrepiece of the production as the men taunt each other and Giselle must dance with both her suitors at once.

Melody Celatti’s Giselle brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role of ingénue turned harlot that never leaves her despite the dark world she’s drawn into. Impressively in her dances with Gaudencio (Dabel Zanabria) and Lorenzo (Esteban Domenichini), Celatti clearly marks Giselle’s differing feelings towards them, demonstrating a cold precision and technical brilliance with Gaudencio, but reserving emotional connection only for Lorenzo.

Domenichini and Zanabria are essentially two sides of the same coin, one lovelorn and heroic, the other evil and calculating, giving a sense of the conflicting aspects of masculinity in this era and its manifestation through their control of the tango. Carla Chimento creates some attractive lines as Madam who has a number of spotlight moments to show her girls how it’s done, while the wider ensemble has time to highlight their skill across a variety of tango forms.

Tanguera’s frothy start belies the darker heart of this show which Godoy’s choreography and Pacheco’s direction slowly unfolds. The emotional pitch is tightly controlled across the production with the sparring use of singer Marianella in the key moments of heartbreak, hope and tragedy, while the rivalry between the two groups of men builds to a climactic pitch as the story plays out.

Despite its typical musical theatre beginning, Tanguera certainly reveals the dark underworld of Buenos Aires and the high price its protagonists pay for love.

Runs until 6 August 2017 | Image: Manuel Navarro

Review Overview

A lovely clarity

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