The distinguished dance writer Mindy Aloff, author of Ballet Anecdotes and Hippo in a Tutu, sent me this comment, which I think is worthy of a post of its own:

Gabriel Misse and Analía Centurión do more than lead one to admire their skill: They inspire great joy in the audience. Their dancing is more than steps–but more what? While they were in New York, they gave four hard-working days of workshops at the Dardo Galletto Studios. As an observer, I attended one called “Tango Sequences of Famous Milongueros,” for intermediate-level dancers. The first thing one notices about Misse, who conducted the class, with Centurion assisting the students, is how grounded and centered and focused he is. Although his straight-legged stalking walks travel a lot, he uses a great deal of demi-plie in the course of dancing, and he calibrates the depth of it carefully. He also achieves what the greatest dancers alone can, which is to isolate the movement of his legs from the carriage of his torso. (In a performance, this is especially visible in the jitterbug, which, if one were to film him only from the waist up, would present an image of imperturbable gliding, even though, from the waist down, he’s doing crazy-leg rhythms.) Another observer–Nancy Reynolds, research director for The George Balanchine Foundation–was there when I arrived and filled me in on the previous session, in which Misse had lectured in Spanish (with another dancer translating, as would happen in this session as well). “Tango isn’t for fun,” he said in that earlier workshop. “It’s an art.” During the two hours of the “Famous Milongueros” workshop, Misse taught just three steps, three phrases, really–one each for a different milonguero step-author. Several times he cautioned the dancers, “It’s not in the steps,” meaning by “it,” I gathered, the dance. “First, you manage your space,” he told the leaders (some of them were women, as were all the followers), “then, when you have your space, you perfect the step.” The three steps were of increasing levels of difficulty. The first was called “Bird,” because “in this dance, he [the milonguero whose nickname was also “Bird”] looks like he’s flying. You should look like your paragliding.” The phrase is essentially walking, with a wheeling pivot; however, the “flight” is a tiny maneuver at the end, when the follower comes out of the tight phrase with a delicate, almost imperceptible spiral. The second step-phrase, also bearing the nickname of its author (who is still alive, at 86), was the “Small Pear.” “Tango is not an age-related thing,” Misse said. “He’s a very aggressive dancer, but not in a bad way. He’s got a heavy energy.” The “Small Pear” has a kind of story to it, with the follower suddenly challenging the leader by flash-directing her foot toward him, between his legs. The challenge is resolved by the leader taking two tiny, pincering steps inward to frame (or trap) her assertive foot and then shifting his weight so that she can closely pace around him, like a goat edging around a mountain pass. This step embodies that puzzle-solving aspect of tango improvisation that makes it a dance analogy for chess. The third step is called, I believe, “Paralyzed,” to reflect the style of its step-author, also aggressive, yet his dynamism punctuated by sudden pauses. I believe his name was Cachico Mateo la Casa. A spectacular phrase, it begins quietly and works into a rhythm that gives the effect of the leader’s body becoming the handle of a whip and the follower’s body becoming the whip’s responsive lash: Pause together. Walk, walk, flash-flash! This step-author died in 1995, at a milonga, apparently. He asked the orchestra to play his favorite song; disrespectfully, they placed it last. The dancer waited to the end to hear it, sat down after dancing, and expired then and there. Misse also asked the students to listen to a recorded song featuring a singer named, I believe, Ruffino, 16 years old at the time of the recording. “When you hear the phrasing of the singer [on the word “luna,” or “moon”], it’s like walking on the moon.” With Centurion, he demonstrated a dance fragment with the lyric tenderness appropriate to the song. Misse explained that, when he dances to this recording, he imagines himself as the young singer, who had worked so hard to perform at such a young age with a great orchestra. He also said: “The most important thing in this class is not how many steps you learn but that, when you do each step, you’re celebrating the life of the milonguero who made the step. If you do it without life, you’re destroying the work of 60 years.”

2 Comments

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