Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “Milonga”

Review of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Milonga

Why is it so hard to tell a new story about tango – or even a real story?

It’s just not all about drama with your lover.

Tango is about race, class, and gender.

These stories too, are full of conflict and reconciliation – the choreographic strategy which seems to define tango. But they are much richer stories than stage tango bothers to tell.

Tango is…Slavery, migration, multiculturalism…Poverty, the creation of a middle-class…Heterocentrism, authoritarian masculinity, disposable women, and the resilience of gender roles…Conflicts between generations, reverence for elders, and the pain of being foregone for younger women…Nation-building, patrimony, history…The creation of a transnational culture and culture in diaspora…Creativity in community – very similar to hip hop. …Surviving terror and trauma, silence and healing and loneliness…Hierarchy, opportunity, glamour, exoticization and exploitation….Improvisation, courage, and self-creation.

So many stories to tell, but none of them  start with one man and one woman. There are always the women not chosen. And the ghosts.

I am sad that Cherkaoui, following from the brilliant Babel which explored multiculturalism with breadth and humor, with dancers of mixed ages and abilities, and without relying on acrobatic dance, has given us only another litany of melodramas, threesomes, chairs, and spectacle.

I liked a lot of the choreography (especially the first dance in soltada, the triets, the allegorical air tango, and the top-notch stage number with  Soledad Andrea Fernandez*). I liked the concept of mixing tango and contemporary dancers (with mixed results). But I yearned for an outsider to make some meaning that tango’s insiders seem incapable or unwilling to do.

The one superlative artistic moment had nothing to do with tango.  A man, a white flag, and a projection of the Argentinean flag danced on and past one another. This was a profound and moving representation of the historical and ongoing struggle of the Argentinean people for and with and and against their nation, state, and government. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of this number.



*The advertising does not list the cast and even what I think is Cherkaoui’s own company website doesn’t clearly identify the dancers. So I had to guess based on photos. If you know who this was, please let me know.



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