Most tango shows designed for the theatre operate on a fairly abstract basis. There’s usually an element of sleazy love but essentially they’re a long line of episodic dance sequences with no connection to each other. When you get a good one, it’s a fantastic experience.
Tanguera has been rolling around the world now for 15 years and takes the unusual step of following a narrative. It tells the story of Giselle, a beautiful young French girl emigrating to Argentina in the early 20th century who, within one minute of setting foot on shore, falls in love with a docker and then inexplicably walks off with a pimp.
It’s quite interesting for half an hour or so, as choreographer Mora Godoy uses the more aggressive aspects of tango to explore male manipulation of women in the dark underworld of prostitution. As the story progresses though, the characters don’t develop – the baddies remain cliché-ridden baddies and the goodies are irreproachable. Giselle at the end of the story is the same naïve angel she was when she arrived, despite the extreme violence and deprivation she’s been subjected to.
This may not have mattered if the dancing had been allowed to breathe. The performers were excellent – quick fast feet and a tremendous glide to their steps – but every time a duet was beginning to flourish it was interrupted by yet another fight scene. There were also about ten too many slow-motion sequences highlighting something important happening. And the ending is botched – I remain unsure whether they died or not.
Still, Valeria Ambrosio’s staging looks good, the costumes are just what you want and the (mostly hidden) band are terrific. There’s also a decent singer playing a character on stage, but she seems a bit random to a non-Spanish speaker like me – maybe she’s relating events? There’s some very good dancing to see, especially in the encores, but the overwhelming feeling at the end was one of frustration about what might have been.
Tanguera runs at Sadler’s Wells until 6 August 2017 and tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.