by Derrick del Pilar
I’ve sometimes heard people grumble a bit that professionals always seem to choose the same songs for their performances. But I don’t see this as a bad thing—the familiarity of the music allows both us and them to focus on their connection and their individuality, while perceiving the common threads that link all forms of the tango. Ballet and opera aficionados routinely view the same pieces put on by different companies, to discover new and exciting ways to interpret old favorites.
Here are three more classic tangos you can download from iTunes, after you watch the videos of different dancers performing to them. I love to keep an eye out for the ways in which different couples express the same flourishes or fills in the music.
Tres Esquinas (Three Corners) (1941)
Orq. Ángel D’Agostino, singer Ángel Vargas
“I come from this humble neighborhood, I’m the sentimental tango...”
Yes, astute readers, I featured this song in my very first column for Oxygen, the top ten tangos of ALL TIME. And that’s why I think it deserves to appear again, especially when we can watch how some of the greats dance to it.
First, watch this video of Graciela González dancing this song. Then watch it again. And again. Graciela, La Negra, one of the giants of contemporary tango, doesn’t usually travel with a partner—she often performs with local dancers. Here, Rodion dances both with her and for her, so she can highlight the music with her talents. They start off with a calm walk, matching the music with occasional double time steps. At 1:09, notice how his foot traces a circle on the floor just as Vargas holds out a long note with his voice. In the calesita at 1:27, la Negra lifts her foot exactly when there is a piano fill in the music. At 2:16, he leads a classic figure: the foot sandwich parada. He doesn’t rush through, he takes his time, and she does a tiny weight change in place before stepping over his leg. At 2:37, his emphatic steps and her use of her free leg transform their walk into something sublime. At 2:59, as he leads the parada, she matches the phrasing of Vargas’s voice with one of the most unique adornments I’ve ever seen. Watch the alignment of her leg and the timing of her pivot....amazing!
Now take a look at Fernando & Vilma’s performance of this song. They use unique combinations of turns, both in close embrace (watch at 00:21–00:27 and 01:04–01:10) and open (see 1:49–1:59) to follow the contours of the song. They don’t very many adorments, though when they do, as in the small, sharp, low boleo combinations at 2:31 right with the piano, they are spot on.
iTunes album: Antologia Noble del Tango, Vol. 4
Lagrimitas de mi corazón (The Little Tears of My Heart) (1948)
Orq. Aníbal Troilo, singers Edmundo Rivero and Floreal Ruiz
“Ungrateful woman, the dark gaze of your treacherous eyes slay me with love...”
Vals duets are some of the most hauntingly beautiful tango pieces ever recorded. This piece features two of the greatest vocalists of the late 1940s singing a bitter song about the sufferings of love, joined by a third inimitable voice: Troilo’s sorrowful bandoneón.
Renowned Argentine dancers Julio & Corina smoothly integrate their dancing with the song’s ebb and flow. They execute elegant turns in a fluid embrace, and spin to match the phrasing of the song. The most spectacular moment is the series of dynamic tiny colgadas that begins at 2:22. Immediately afterwards, they slow down to match the singer’s voices again.
The next couple, Mike & Janalee, show us how to dance smooth, social salon tango to this piece. Watch how her boleo at 00:51 matches Troilo’s phrasing on the bandoneón. A few seconds later at 1:00, Mike’s slow lapiz sweeps the floor as the singer holds out his opening notes. Throughout the song, their dancing alternately emphasizes the ¾ rhythm of the vals and the lyricism of the vocals.
iTunes Album: The History of Tango / Tangos & Milongas, Recordings 1947
Relíquias porteñas (Relics of Old Buenos Aires) (1938)
Orq. Francisco Canaro
On the opposite of the emotional spectrum from “Lagrimitas” lies this wonderful milonga. The title assures us that we are hearing a piece of bygone Buenos Aires—if you saw “Midnight in Paris” you might recall that at every point in the past, every Golden Age we nostalgically idealize, there was an even earlier Golden Age whose recollections brought mist to the eyes of people living then. For tangueros living in the tumultuous ‘30s, this was the mythical turn of the 20th century, when tango music was fast, upbeat, playful, and instrumental—which is precisely the mood of this piece by Canaro.
And this is also precisely the energy that Javier & Geraldine capture in their dance. I couldn’t resist featuring them again, because they’re just so connected and so musical. This piece is not easy—a clear melodic line flows above the rhythm, which seems to change with every phrase. Plus it’s fast. You have to watch this one over and over to catch every little thing they do with their bodies to match the music, but some highlights are: the way their free legs slow down and drag from 1:00–1:06 to match a sustained note in the melody, the tiny run of quick steps to match the piano run at 1:30, and the seemingly effortless series of ganchos and boleos that Geraldine does beginning at 2:32, all while pivoting on one foot (I count five in four seconds—a preternatural feat).
Gustavo & María dance this milonga with similar joy and humor, matching the phrasing, varying their steps, and executing lightning fast footwork. Keep an eye on Maria’s feet in the little run at 00:39—if you can. The spinning calesita that Gustavo leads at 1:02 perfectly punctuates the end of that phrase, and he does a series of quick steps to match the same piano run that Javier & Geraldine pick up at 1:18 (the music starts a bit later in the other video).
Both these lovely couples and their performances remind us that tango dancing expresses a range of emotions—and that besides being elegant and nostalgic, it can also be exuberant and playful.
iTunes Album: Milonga, vieja milonga