Dancing with Germain


Germain Cascales and I made our artistic debüt in three shows and two workshops at Berlin Tangoloft, 30.Okt-1.Nov, 2015. It was our fourth tanda.

So erotic, I’ll be unsatisfied watching regular tango now.


Breathtaking. I keep watching the video over and over.


I am thrilled with our collaboration because for the last several years I have been asking myself “can tango be art?”. That’s not a word I take lightly. (Ok, I don’t take anything lightly.) My rigor on this point is not elitism, but an expression of the belief that there are only a couple of ways to make my presence meaningful in this life: fight destruction of nature and people or make art. Life-justifying art is serious art. Something that delivers a deep message, or sustains and uplifts the human spirit. At the moment I’m partial to circus and cathedrals…But I suppose only the artist knows if he said what he meant to say, and if he had something to say in the first place – if she was a commodity, a celebrity, or a conduit for the divine. (Not to say that these three are always mutually exclusive.) Anyway I’ve been pretty sure that I’ll know it when and if I see it, and that I hadn’t seen it yet.

A negative finding on this question would exacerbate my unresolved hesitation about slathering my skills on increasingly rare ephemeral joy co-dependent on a cocktail of sexism and self-exploitation.

The inklings I had about how to make tango art are about magnifying consequence and improvisation. In tango, the mark is not a code; it’s a biomechanical relation which has a physiological impact on the partner. The consequence is not linguistic, but animal, conjoined. The consequence is a deeper communion than what is common in life, and yet one which tango offers to everyone. As a tango artist, I want to make this offer plain.

The biomechanics of consequence make improvisation possible. Improvisation can be spectacular, especially as Germain and I take such big risks to our dignity and our bodies. But for me improvisation is the name for what my first tango teacher called “the sacred”. I didn’t know what she meant at the time, but I do now. As the Revel I am the witness and the material of my man’s creativity. It’s an honor when he decides to trust me, and himself, with what is mysterious, powerful, and emergent within him.

DJ Elio Astor’s live mixes are improvised; Germain and I don’t know what the music will be or how long it will go on. Apparently the result is palpable. Many observers commented to us specifically about the improvisational aspect. And Elio himself wrote:

I hope everybody can find inspiration watching this and other videos of full-improvisation dance by Vio and Germain Cascales, it was a pleasure for the eyes to see something which rarely happens in tango shows, to see that there is not a single expression of the face and movement of body which is planned and defined before. Everything is leaded by the music and filtered in their hearts.

The reality of dancing this way is very, very difficult. (I noticed that the level of concentration required to dance with Germain kills any nervousness I might have experienced in other performances.) Not knowing what will come, we must continually leap into our interpretation of the music and one another. The demand to “trust thyself” (Emerson) is immanent.  In addition to the unknown of the music, Germain is a contemporary dancer. So the matrix of movement possibilities expands dramatically beyond the already-rich tango lexicon of roughly 1000 movements; we add any or no embrace, change of level, and, what Pedro and Julieta once (joking, I think) called “voleo torso”.

A few months ago I was part of a small group investigating the experience of dancing to cellist Karel Bredenhorst playing solo with loop. (It was the first Third Room session organized by Andreas Rochholl in preparation for the 2016 Hauptbahnhof Contemporary Tango Festival). One of the observations I made was that I wanted the music to force me out of tango clichés, and specifically that I never felt the need to dance the sequence back-side-front again. (Recently on a video tour of 2008-2011 BsAs local talent, I was taken aback to observe that even in this relatively aggressive and virtuosic era, while the guys made much interesting improvisation, almost always they were dancing on top of this base sequence for the girls.)

In the demo of our workshop on 1.Nov “Dancing between Acceleration and Slomo” I don’t think Germain marked the sequence back-side-front even once, and there were only two circular voleos.

Most of the cool stuff we did in this demo and in our tanzshöw was covered in the TangoForge in Tangoloft course, especially the sessions on soltadas, contra linear voleo v. contra rebote v. flying step, and Revel’s Initiative.

My name for what TangoForge dancers are doing is “extreme tango“: in absolute trust we seek to take tango to the edges of its physical and improvisational possibilities. This is high risk. We do movements in which we could be injured, and many movements which could fail or fall. Germain’s physical skills and my muscle recover most of our errors, but our dances are not perfect and that is not our goal. We decided also to play with engaging our audience in the risk, by moving close, eliciting alertness, improvisation, and responsiveness, getting you to participate in this risk with us.

One thing many people are certainly asking themselves when they watch us dance is whether this is still tango. Having distilled tango’s uniqueness among partner dances down to the issue of consequence, I can reassure you that every movement in my body is a consequence of him. I do nothing by rote, as in salsa and swing. And while some see the physical looseness of contact improv in our dance, the power relations are not dissolved. Germain is the mark. I make offers, but I do not take over, nor does he yield to me.

Fascinatingly, the weekend with Germain arrived on the heels of a 6-week investigation into “The Revel’s Initiative”. I made this investigation because I felt it was a topic that needed to be covered in the first TangoForge in Tangoloft course, which was called “Dancing on Contemporary Music”. People often see me dancing with Andreas Rochholl in Tangoloft, and wonder what we are doing. And when I have a chance to dance with Iwan Harlan, we play off of one another to create a movement dynamic for each song (so long as we’ve got some interesting music to work with, as we did at Alexander Darda’s Spiegelsaal milonga). I felt I needed to articulate and teach what I do with these guys, even though it’s something I don’t do most of the time I’m dancing. I needed to share with the students some ideas and give them the choice whether they want to do it. Then a student came to me specifically to study how to dance with different power relations. I said “well I’m not sure I’m interested. Everybody likes to say “it’s a conversation”.  I think conversation is the wrong metaphor and here’s why. So I was wary, but I engaged the investigation. By the time we finished six weeks of experiments and application to different music and dancing environments, I arrived to a position of more extreme fidelity than I started with.

Then Germain arrived. And dancing with him, fidelity isn’t it. It isn’t the maximum possibility of our art. And for him, it is not about control. He’s after something else, something that happens in the freefall. It’s as if some people attach their idea of mastery to aiming the ball and getting it through the hoop. Germain is more interested in the process of catching a flying object, and what he’s going to do with his body when he receives that weight and momentum.

I always defer to the mark to choose music. But I learned this weekend that I can’t do that with Germain. When I didn’t feel inspired by the music, our dance lagged. Elio said it right. When we step onto the dance floor, we leave behind every tango custom. We don’t even touch until the music drives us together. We have no sequence to rely on, no elegant control to aspire to. We wait, apart, watching, for the feelings to come. Our dance is dependent on them. We can, in fact dance without music, with eyes and bodies, but we cannot dance without feelings.  And I found over the weekend that it was harder to find feelings when the music was too familiar and routine. I sang to Germain in our Saturday night encore to Robin Skouteris’ remix of Hotel California. But it wasn’t so raw, because I wasn’t looking for him. I needed fresh music that I hadn’t heard, so that I could search in it for myself and him. I needed music that didn’t already pound itself out in my mind.

Invesetigating soltadas with Nick Young, TangoForge Sydney, we concluded that what happens in soltada is that the line of power moves. It doesn’t disappear, it moves. The mark becomes slightly less controlling, and the revel becomes slightly more courageous. In the small amount of time Germain and I had to practice, I was aware that I was looking for exactly where the line belongs. And I believe it’s going to be a different place with every partner.

I also noticed that this dancing is non-addictive. Every other man I have ever enjoyed dancing with feeds something in me that is never satisfied. Even after a superlative tanda, I spend the evening looking and hoping for more. With Germain I am satisfied and full. I think this means that something different is going on than just receiving his creativity and tenderness. Although there is certainly plenty of that, my participation is somehow and significantly different.

While every tango requires trusting my body, senses, and musicality, with Germain my trust in myself is vastly more significant. There is no illusion of surrender. (I note that surrender to a man was the element of tango which enabled me to dance in the first place. In 2006, I was too shy to move my own body.) Germain leads, but he is not in control. He does not grasp all the power. My power, my judgment, my maximum physical efforts are crucial and I know it. I dare not falter.

I’ll add to this post as I come to understand this experience better.

If you want to see more, here’s our third tanda:

• • •

It was an honour to dance at Berlin Tangoloft. Thank you to Mona Isabelle for your inspiring and persistent joyful spirit, to Henning Klose for cool smiling wizardry, to Germain Cascales for profound courage, to Elio Astor TangoDj II for your determination to make space for Argentine tango to grow, to Andreas Rochholl for pivotal artistic encouragement, to my amazing crew who got us through the weekend: Melissa Dani White on costumes, Fritz Schadow and Matthew Fitzsimons on cameras, GroovyJ on every detail in-between. And to Roberto L’Ange for the power.


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