The history of Altertango began at the beginning, my beginning anyway. My first dance partner, Fritz, liked to dance to street musicians. I had special plastic-soled shoes that could pivot on anything, even straight asphalt. We found a saxophone player practicing in an alley and danced amongst the garbage cans. We danced over the stars on Hollywood Boulevard to a noodling electric guitar, and a drummer whose kit was made of metal kitchen gear. Duro’s idea of a tango video was to dance in the middle of the street in a snowstorm. There was that night in that bar in Sydney with that blues guitarist+loop who felt the need to stammer to the audience “I can’t tell if they’re dancing to my music or I’m playing to their dancing.” (Fernando Aragones)
There was a long, boring period in which I tried to impress everyone with my conservatism. No one was having it.
By accident I danced to Santos Barrios (of Buenos Aires Orq. Ciudad Baigone) on the broken floor just in front of the basement stage and discovered a level of connection with the musicians that startled all four of us. They named it “El Quatro” and we did it for a week in the middle of milongas and between the chairs of squat bars. Then I asked Berlin Jazz Orq. Abisko Lights if I could bring a group of dancers to their concert. Afterward Dirk Flateau, the composer and pianist, whose back was to us during the concert, announced “Usually I feel so empty after a show. I felt connected to you. I woke up happy.” His daring articulation of “emptiness” was the bell which broke my old world. I locked the doors and went on retreat.
The old world of yearning for respect from the police at milongas ended in my home, San Francisco, January 2018, the night I would come to call “the last milonga“. It doesn’t mean I stopped going to milongas. It means I stop seeing milongas as the goal or site of tango. I accept that most of my students are uncomfortable there, yet love tango. And I take responsibility to generate imagination about and experimental manifestations of anti-milonga tango.
As usual, I began as soon as possible. I created a new role in TangoForge, “Musical Director” and asked Antoine to reach out to musicians. I performed with JamImprov band, WilderGarten.
The next TangoForge weekend was Sverige IV. I brought a musician who I had never heard play before (Gaelyn Hutchinson), and taught workshops about “Bad Surfaces”, “Real Music”, and how to be Action Heros to Popularize Tango.
When we analyzed the Lexicon of Tango, we found that only 11 of the 25 elements require pivot leaving us with well over 1/2 of tango movements available to use when we can’t pivot. Never again will we say, or hear, “Nice music, too bad there’s no floor” or “I don’t have the right shoes.”
Then came the III Annual Seminar Encuentro Compañeros TangoForge 2018. We had a daily Music Experiment Station with live solo musicians and trios: Hannes Daerr, the bass clarinet of Abisko Lights, Cristóbal Rey, Ibon Goitia of Dardarka, Isabella Santos, and Alan Nguyen of WilderGarten to improvise with the dancers. Crystal-acid-powerful as my teaching is, we all agreed that these sessions were by far the most profound and revelatory events of the week.
Altertango is cocreated between dancers and musicians. It happens anywhere. No one is responsible to provide floors to specifications or music that meets any particular expectations. No one comes expecting someone else to give them a good dance or a good night. People do take responsibility for bringing duct-tape. The event includes dialogue with the musicians.
I’ll be creating these events as often as possible. Please be aware that they are unique moments and may not be repeated. Please understand that the financial priority of these events is always to pay the musicians as much as possible.