Berlin: The Directors’ Cut

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Vio moved from Sydney to join Roberto in Berlin on 1.December 2014. Accompanied by superlative collaborators, we used every opportunity to tell new stories and make tango bigger.

From 2021 Berlin will no longer be our headquarters. We’ve written a FAQ below about what that’s all about.

We want to use this moment of transition to revisit, celebrate, and comment on what we created and shared.

We met in the summer of 2014 at Art.13. After we decided that I would move to Berlin, I returned to Sydney for a few months to close my school there. One day I reported to my class that Roberto had been expelled from three milongas in one week for making too high voleos. I knew, and my Sydney students knew, that I had finally found my man.

This anecdote truly captures what bonds us and drives our pedagogy and artistry. We pursue the physical power and pleasure of tango, without regard to gender roles, fads, or punishment for deviance.

We have watched students, friends, and even our teachers submit to tango Fundamentalism. We have suffered exclusion, misrepresentation, and insult by people who have far less skill and expertise than we do.

In 2015, Homer Ladas declared “Vio, it’s your job to keep the door open.” Fortunately Roberto and I share the fortitude to dance in the unflattering light of unpopularity, and hold that heavy door, so that people could see and know that the tango they want is viable.

With a larger group of dancers we share the knowledge that tango saved our lives somehow – made us better at living. And because of this we want to invite new people in. Our particular invitation is to present a tango relevant to popular culture. We design our aesthetics and messages to resonate with contemporary music, fashion, body, and gender concepts. 

Gratitude

It’s impossible to overstate the significance to our development and to all our projects of Mona Isabelle‘s generosity and trust. We thank her from the bottom of our hearts.

To all our Berlin dance partners: Armin Kyros (who introduced us), Aurélie Lefevre, Max Power Thomas, Fritz Schadow, Frauke Nees, Andi Hackenberg, Stefan Brenner, Yoko Onodera, Swan, Jessica Phoenix Förster, Cédric Tellier, Gökhan Aksakalli.

To our stage manager CJ Yetman, and the photographers Thomas Conte, Fritz Schadow, Pez, Fabienne Butt.

PRODUCTIONS

The Tradition is Transgressive 2017

The most significant TangoForge Berlin production was our second year at the Contemporary Tango Festival 2017 in the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The core concept of this show was to present Argentine Tango in the cultural context of a hip hop cypher.

A cypher is a regular social event, like a weekly milonga for hip hop dancers. It’s open and inclusive and focused on skills development. Participants may later go on to compete in a battle (a more extraordinary event, like a tango festival), having gained confidence and skill by first performing with the encouraging community of a cypher. At a cypher, dancers enter the circle when they feel inspired by the DJ’s music and ready to perform. They exit after a minute or several, when physically or creatively exhausted. The members of the circle give their attention and enthusiastic vocal cheers to each dancer, and hug, high-five, or congratulate them on completion. The cypher includes different levels of dancers, from beginners to experts, who take the stage in an egalitarian manner, equally encouraged. Girls receive special enthusiasm when they dare to enter this masculine game.

We chose the cypher as a context for tango for several reasons. One is because we wanted to model an atmosphere of encouragement rather than critique as a social tango community. Second because we wanted to show that tango as a dance can be expressed in many other aesthetics than the cliché, including hip hop’s aggressive physical, virtuosic, risk-taking aesthetic. Third because we wanted to connect these two seemingly different and separate cultures both developed in the African diaspora.

The cast for our cypher included professional dancers, our three apprentices, amateur dancers, and students. The least experienced performer, Leon, had been dancing only 6 months. Most of the dancers who performed in the cypher were doing their very first tango performance. In order to ensure their success while maintaining our commitment to improvisation, we did two things:

First we created a story in which each dancer had a character to inhabit. We had OGs (Original Gangstas), YGs (Young Gangstas), good girls, gangsta’s girls, soured friendships, and new business alliances in the offing.This story was the basis of their costumes and the choreography by which they entered and exited the dance floor. 

Second, each couple was assigned two elements from which to improvise. They trained toward a 60 second improvisation maximizing the variations of these two elements. This structure was designed to ensure the dances would be improvised but not repetitive or suffering the expectable Mark’s performance brain-freeze.

For this Director’s Cut we made a new, shorter video of the cypher without the rest of the long show, with some real hiphop cypher footage interwoven.

The Tradition is Transgressive featured: Jessica Phoenix Förster dancing with Vio. Max Power Thomas as the cypher leader/DJ  dancing with Roberto. Stefan Brenner, Yoko Onodera, Swan, Annemarie Deser, Fritz Schadow, and Léon Goldammer, made their tango debüts.

Our camera team: Pez, Anders Angebjörn, Andi Hackenberg, Fritz Schadow, and Franz.

Nothing would be possible without the collaboration with DJ/Saxman Michael Rühl, our spectacular stage manager, CJ Yetman, our all-around angel, Mona Isabelle, and the visionary founder of the CTF, Andreas Rochholl.

WARRIOR 2019

In July of 2019 the team built through the CTF shows and our Annual Seminars came together to create a film designed to promote tango as a dating alternative for athletic people who do solitary sports. We decided to focus specifically on martial artists and yogis, as we have had many positive tango experiences with people coming from these traditions and we’d like to dance with more of them!

WARRIOR tells the story of a yoga teacher (played by Jessica Phoenix) and a kungfu teacher (played by Cédric Tellier) who are lonely but alienated from people they see in bars and online who are unhealthy. We show that the yoga class is mostly women and the kungfu class is mostly men. When one of the students (played by Ines) tries to flirt with the only boy in the yoga class (played by Fritz Schadow), he is self-absorbed and aloof.  Cédric catches Jessica’s eyes between the classes. When Cédric takes a walk after class with his protégé (played  by Max Power Thomas) they come across an outdoor tango event, and they immediately see the physical connections between kungfu movements and tango. Cédric dreams of dancing with Jessica and proposes to Max that they learn tango. Eventually, Cédric leads his students to gently interrupt the yoga class, transforming the position Warrior II into tango movements. In the final scene, we see a diversity of couples (including a same sex couple) expressing various cultural and fashion aesthetics through tango.

Our crew of 19 traveled from 6 countries to be part of this shoot. Its success was made possible by the participation of professional cinematographer Fabienne Butt, who gave Vio a crash course in writing and direction. The cinematography team also included: Thomas Conte who shot the first photographs of Vio y Roberto in 2014 as well as our very cold first video production with Max Power, the ICC sessions. The third cinematographer was Pez, who shot The Tradition is Transgressive in 2017 and the Annual Seminars 2017 and 2018.

Dancers also included Sonja Witte and Eva Curtius, and actors included Jaina Hirai, who acted in Transgressive and did massage therapy at all of our seminars, and Alan Nguyen, a martial artist taking quickly to tango and musical director of  our TRYST project.

The music for WARRIOR is tracks from Abisko Lights, a Berlin jazz orquesta with whom we have been collaborating since 2017.

Abisko Lights and TRYST

In the fall of 2017 Carlos Libedinsky invited Vio and Roberto to “check out a band” with him. We fell in love with Abisko Lights and told them we wanted to dance on their music. They invited us their next concert and even organized a side-stage for us. We invited friends, and warned them it was Not a Milonga. Afterward, Abisko Lights’ composer and pianist, Dirk Flateau, told us that although he couldn’t see us, he could feel us dancing and that our participation fulfilled him in a way that people saying nice things didn’t. Roberto said something nice anyway: “Usually when I dance I have to think about what I’m going to do. With your music the movements flowed directly from my heart.”

We have not yet been able to do another live event with Abisko Lights. We have promoted their music to tango DJs, performed on it, and they have generously allowed us to use their music in our series of art shorts from the road.

 

All the dancers were very moved and Roberto and I knew we wanted to continue this experiment, which had actually begun with a blues musician in Sydney at Alistair’s 2013 “Moveable Milonga” and continued in 2015 with experimental sessions with cellist Karel Bredenhorst. In our 2018 Seminar we invited solo musicians to improvise and learned that the Revels reported that their Marks danced better to this music, because they had to concentrate and give more attention to everything they did.

Over the winter of 2018/2019 with musical directors Alan Nguyen and Antoine Gallix, we organized TRYST, 11 sessions of improvised music, culminating with a packed 45-minute session with Orquesta TRYST (Ibon Goitia, Gábor Hartyáni, Alan Nguyen, Antoine Gallix, and Ika Ko) as part of Mona Isabelle’s Festivalito Farbenspiele in October of 2019.

Germain “Mano” Cascales

Perhaps the most dramatic thing that happened to TangoForge in Berlin was meeting this extraordinary dancer. Vio and Mano met at the Clärchens Ballhaus in the summer of 2015. They danced only twice, but wanted to make a video before his return to Paris. Fritz Schadow jumped in as cameraperson and chose a fabulous site, the Volkspark Friedrichshain, for what would become TangoForge’s cult-iconic video to the music of Massive Attack’s “Paradise Circus”.

Germain’s Berlin debüt was a few months later at DJ Elio Astor’s, and both of them sent shockwaves of delight from the basement of TangoLoft. Mano taught two fabulous classes that weekend, “dancing with the furniture” and “dancing between acceleration and slomo”. Then Andreas Rochholl determined that DJ Elio and Germain should come together again in the TangoForge show at the Contemporary Tango Festival 2016. That first year our interpretation of Andreas’ mission was to get tango off the stage and into the building, but there was no time to rehearse. With Elio’s music driving us, the improvisation again reached a level of risk that thrilled the audience.

Germain’s background and training in theater bring a lot of character to his physicality and mood. We played with this in our shows with #FUEYE in the collection below.

After realizing the artistic significance of what was happening between Vio and Mano, we worked to make a pedagogy of it. This resulted in our systems: “El Encuentro” – dancing into the embrace, our system for soltadas, and our deeper reflections on the issue of risk in tango.

“If there’s no risk, it’s not action.” Choreographer Elizabeth Streb, Born to Fly

Mano and Vio were explicit about taking risks. We were ready to fall. When Roberto and Vio incorporated the techniques developed with Mano, our already powerful dance took flight. By freeing the embrace and taking more risk we were able to express more and to turn a fall into a majestic moment.

Here you will find the entire collection of Mano y Vio videos (beginning with the live debut in Tangoloft basement, and examples of the impact on Vio y Roberto.

In honor of this Director’s Cut, the original Paradise Circus video has been released for the first time on youtube, including both takes. This is the video that many people say “when people say tango is boring and old-fashioned, I just show them this.”

In Berlin, we also taught the Anatomy Tour workshop and four Annual Seminars Encuentor Compañeros TangoForge, created the MasterCourse, collaborated on an analysis of Milonga Popular and spent many wonderful nights with friends in the most beautiful milongas in the world.

FAQ

Silences in history. Silences by code. Silences of fear. You already know that Tango’s silences can be sublime and they can be devastating.

What I do in my blog is use myself as a lens – sometimes a microscope, sometimes a telescope. I try to be as honest with myself and you as words concede. Then I try to find a deeper meaning and imagine a pathway for us.

A blog post can be a fragment, a wisp of inspiration, an outline for thinking. A book must complete and reconcile it all. Now I drag the social scientist to the scene to enumerate the facts of the case, the mystery which brought both stardom and tragedy to my life.

I invite you to join my resolution to take a look at the dark silences of Argentine Tango in our lives. It’s time.

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