Tango lovers dance the nights away at Philly Festival

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

The 7th Philadelphia International Tango Festival convened July 1-4 for a long weekend of events, seminars, technique workshops and conviviality among avid tango fans.  Each evening was capped off with social dancing and performances by international tango stars in the grand ballroom in the historic German Society building on Spring Garden Street.  Festival organizer Meredith Klein said that over 500 people participated in the festival, most traveling in from all around the US and a few from Canada and the UK.

The elegance of the grand ballroom of the German Society, with its high ceilings, chandeliers and Palladian windows, flanked by café tables, was the perfect venue for the festival. At any given time there were 30 to 40 diverse couples flowing on and off the floor, age range between 20 and 75, of different backgrounds and ethnicities and all with one obvious thing in common, a passion for tango and its cultural milieu.

It was an evening of the tango style Milonga, a relaxed, older style danced to up-tempo music, where the dancer can step to any beat.  It has many traditional variations, and is altogether such a different experience than the highly theatrical tango choreography you see in concert dance or during showdance competitions.  There are many style similarities of course, but it is such a different experience than what you may expect, the overall effect is dialed back, more populous, and in some ways, even more sensual.

It appeared that everyone ready to try different things for the Milonga up-tempos that DJ Manuk Colaky was cuing up- from defining classics from Argentinean Astor Piazzolla to Louis Armstrong’s novelty number ‘Two To Tango’ and any number of sumptuous Latin crooners. Some of the couples on the floor following the vocal line, some the instrument, and no one crowding each other.  They especially while dancing to music with tango-waltz (vals) rhythm, they were a spirited ensemble moving as one around the ballroom and everyone freezing their last step as the songs ended.

Several couples were practiced partners, and some of the more accomplished in lacing in some of tango signatures, like the leg jousting and dips. But just as many were game for switching partners, all it takes is the universally understood nod of the head for quick step acceptance.

This was a spirited and good looking room of tango dancers. Many in the crowd dressed casually, but mostly this was a tango runway of stylish dance outfits- Several women in skirts that cut across the leg for those darting leg moves, many in floral silks, some in mod paisley minis, and many in elegant cocktail dresses. And it goes without saying that there was a bounty of strappy spike heels of every drop-dead gorgeous design (there were scads of shoe bags under their tables for any emergencies). Many of the men were in jackets over jeans, some with ties, some younger men in spruced up club garb finished off with the coolest two-textured shoes.

At midnight, festival organizer Meredith Klein and her partner Andres Amarilla took the floor. They have been dancing professionally for ten years and in 2008, established the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School. Klein is the director of the school, where they both teach and on this night, they are without doubt captivating this crowd as seasoned performers in three stylistically different duets.

The highlight of their set was their spellbinding choreography scored to Debussy’s tone poem ‘Clair de Lune.’ The duet is a new number by the couple, but already looking like a classic. Their fluid style build a serene chemistry that built as they glided over the floor, lacing their moves with lifts and a dramatic moment when Klein is on point in her stilettos for a lithe turns. Next, Octavo Fernandez and Carla Marano had equally electric chemistry, in their mid to quick tempo tango with elegant carriage, sinuous partner lines and ever intricate patterning.

Tango heritage was on the front burner Saturday night with DJ Manuk Colakyan cuing up smoldering violin and bandoneón orchestrals. classic numbers for some classic tango movers. Perhaps the most anticipated performance of the festival with the appearance of international tango royalty Nito Garcia and Elba Sottile in three featured performances that stole everyone’s heart and soul.

They were alternating numbers with the burn-the-floor partners Adrian Veredice and Alejandra Hobert, partners professionally for 20 years and exemplar of tango theatricality. Their quality of improvisation, precision technical artistry and dramatic attack hypnotized the crowd – Hobert’s signature back kicks flares punctuate the sultry leg wrapping, inventive dips and sizzling finishing embrace (abrazo) with Veredice.

Klein introduced Nito and Elba with a long appreciation of what they have given to the art form. Nito Garcia, born in 1935, who learned authentic tango in Buenos Aries as a child and emerged as the most honored star during the golden age of tango during the 40s and 50s.  Nito and Elba met in the early 70s, and after a few casual meetings they started dating and they have been partners on and off stage ever since. They are perhaps the most revered and award winning dance couple on the international tango scene.  Klein noted that among generations of tango dancers, they are “The Maestros” as teachers, performers and innovators. They may now be senior dancers, but they dance with joyous clarity of movement, indelible mystique and their inestimable artistic legacy.

And the Milonga was danced on by their adoring crowd into the wee hours on an otherwise starless night in a ballroom under a crescent moon on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia.

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

View All Posts