El Tangauta Nº 182(DIC 2009) • © El Tangauta 2009 •
Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli
Essence and teaching
interview by Milena Plebs
M: I would like to talk to you about the contribution that dancers and teachers can make from our experience to those who are learning.
CH: Each day that we go to a milonga, do an exhibition or a show, we are writing tango history, and this is a contribution. Many young people have gotten involved with tango; we are living the beginning of a powerful era. The genre is here to stay, there is no way that it will become hidden or marginalized again. It is constantly evolving.
M: But sometimes those who are starting lose themselves in all the multiple options.
CH: They are completely lost! I learnt with the last great milongueros, I took the information directly from them. Those who are starting to dance don’t have this experience, they learn instead from an intermediate generation that I am a part of; we are a nexus between these old dancers and those who are younger. The problem is that we missed something in the teaching, I take total responsibility, and other colleagues should do so as well. I can’t pass on what I have learned. I was crazy about creating, because I saw a new vein in the evolution of the movement. I threw myself into that, and I lost the way to be able to pass on the tango essence that I have very much inside. Because of this I feel that lately there are a lot of people who don’t understand or know what the real essence of this dance is.
M: You have been dancing for fifteen years. What changes have you noticed in the dance?
CH: Before, people worked with precision and a particular aesthetic, in a functional and mechanical way that gave it a form, and a style. Making a movement or taking a step implied an expression of the entire body. Currently, not only has the essence been lost but the weight of the dance as well, its density and importance. To me, this new tango lost a bit of the respect for what tango is.
M: The knowledge that the milongueros passed on to us intuitively, the indescribable flavor in the way they moved is lost …
CH: Yes, it took me five months to get on the dance floor of the milonga of Almagro, I didn’t dare to, and I went every Sunday only to watch. One breathed an air of respect that cannot be found now. Maybe I still feel it in some milongas like Glorias Argentinas, La Baldosa or in places that are further from the circuit of younger tango. I also took that essence from you and the dancers of your generation. I feel that the people of today are not motivated, they don’t want to work or research.
They don’t want to go to the bottom of the situation; they stay on the surface. This also has to do with the new movements and dynamics that are used, if they are not performed with some power they turn out cold.
M: The internal discourse of the movement is as important as the external form.
CH: Ten years ago, when I went to milongas, I could stay watching a couple go once around the entire dance floor because there was something that attracted me, made me keep my eyes on them. Today I don’t watch for more than twenty seconds because they are all the same. You see a couple circling and the next one behind them is doing the same thing, and the rest as well. There isn’t anything that attracts me, which excites me. Except if I go to the few traditional places that are left.
M: Do you think that the people who dance automatically or repeating formulas could do it in a more internal way?
CH: This demands a lot of things! You know it, because you are a teacher as well, that currently, the available tango pedagogy is much more decoded than ten years ago and so it is easier to learn. Today you do a volcada and a colgada and it is the same because they are there, commercially speaking, in the same package. Then, between doing a sandwichito or a volcada… people do a volcada! Because it’s more eye-catching. In tango people are self-centered, there is much individuality. They are not going to make a sandwichito to enjoy that moment, but whatever shows them more and better. In the musical field Astor Piazzolla broke with everything but you listen to it and it is tango. And today in the dance many think that they are Piazzolla and they aren’t. I see men and women that only worry about how they are seen from the outside. It is a pretty complicated situation because it has to do with a very porteño personality and identity.
M: But the milongueros from other times were also porteños!
CH: Yes, but those milongueros had respect, delicacy and sensibility, it was totally different. I know my role is contradictory, because I also collaborated in generating this young movement. In its moment I got tired of the strict milonguero codes that didn’t correspond with my time and to rebel I tried to make my way. Today I’m a milonguero again (laughter); I’m against the people who do not cabecear (nod), who don’t have codes or respect. The value of tango has been diluted. That is why I say that many dancers are lost, they barely hold on to each other to dance and for two hours like zombies, it is very sad.
M: Sometimes I notice a competition between new currents that allow more ample movements, where the dancers use more space, and those who defend traditional tango with a closed embrace.
CH: There’s something surprising about that. There are the traditionalists who defend roots to the death and then there are those modern or alternative dancers, in other words, new tango. But if you think about it there is nothing in the middle. The traditionalists complain about the modern ones contending that they don’t dance tango, instead they do gymnastics, and the modern dancers complain that the others got stuck in time. There is no fusion, it is one group against the other, and it makes me sad because in reality we are all together.
M: Do you have any wish in relation to tango? Any pending undertaking?
CH: I’m going to tell you a story. I was into rock-and-roll; I had long hair and played the drums. I hated tango, I didn’t like it one bit, I couldn’t even listen to it. But when I went to take a class with Ricardo Barrios and Victoria Vieyra, I embraced my dance partner for the first time and I got goose bumps. I said, “there’s something going on here…” and I never stopped. That magical moment was my beginning. On the other hand, a few years ago I went to the “La Trastienda” milonga organized by Horacio Godoy. I walked in and I saw you. I wanted to dance with you but second-guessed myself. I went back and forth until I asked you. I remember we were talking, then we embraced each other and in that moment I felt 40 years of tango. In the embrace, do you understand? We hadn’t taken a single step! It was simply from the way in which you held me. For me that was the most powerful moment of the tanda. Then we danced for a long time. It was great, we did all sort of things, I enjoyed myself. But the moment of that embrace, like the one of my first class and some others, have marked me in regards to my relationship with the dance. I’m talking about the intimacy of the embrace. With very few people have I been able to feel the same way, much has been lost. My wish for the dance of tango, then, is that the shared intensity returns, in the soul. Not to stay in the surface, but to feel it inside. That the genre evolves from that intimacy. The essence of tango is in the embrace and the person you are dancing with.
M: You are a great improviser and it fascinates me to see you create. Can guidelines be transmitted to improve creativity in improvised exhibition?
CH: Maybe I am a ‘kamikaze’. What provokes in me sensation or emotion makes me move. Every tango is a different and powerful moment. I have designed choreographies, not many, because after repeating them a couple times I can’t find any more risk and, when I don’t have it, everything seems too easy. What motivates me is being on the edge, on the verge of falling, and getting away with it. Improvisation has that. Every time I’m going to dance, I choose the music and the number of songs at that moment. I try to connect with Juana Sepulveda, my partner, to create and artistic moment, of transmission or expression, right there, in that moment. I do not prepare it nor do I think about it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
M: There is no design or pre-established plan?
CH: No, I never did that. Maybe I do some steps that I experimented with in the milonga, which is my place of practice. If something doesn’t work, I don’t insist, because I might loose the connection I have with myself, with my partner and with the people. I have danced with orchestras of great prestige, in theatres all over the world, without doing choreography. Depending on the case maybe I prepare the entrance and the exit, but not the dance in itself.
M: Sometimes, when I see you dance it looks as if the structure of your dance was thought of for its harmony and musicality.
CH:: It has to do with the fact that I was a musician for many years, which is why I understand its structure, whether it is Osvaldo Pugliese, Anibal Troilo, Piazzolla or Electronic tango. The only thing I plan is a selection of tangos that I know well, to be able to play at precise moments. I try to always give what I think belongs there.
M: All of this happens on the spot? There are times when you do a sequence that has a certain duration, that has been made a certain way with a determined phrasing, where in addition to creating you are leading your partner…
CH: I know that phrase and how long it lasts, I know when it has to end and I prepare the movement along the way so that it fits perfectly with the music
M: So the value of knowing the structure of the music is important.
CH: It is crucial. Many of the professional dancers know the tangos but not in depth. There should be a stronger research of the music. I’m not talking about the rhythms, the phrasing or the duration, but the structure, the nuances and the colors. There is richness to be learned in relation to the music. It is infinite!
M: Also, what’s interesting is for the musical interpretation not to be literal. You have a style and many people follow your way to managing the music, but I see a certain lack of comprehension. It’s not about marking every little accent! (laughter) What’s marvelous about tango is the possibility of using the music in a random and personal way. How do you see the new current in relation to exhibition dancing?
CH: There are many professionals who have captured this new information and want to put it in their choreographies. But this material is not refined yet, it needs time to mature until it consolidates itself and can be used as an element of expression.
M: What one still sees are the steps instead of a fluid expression
CH: I think it is a question of giving it time. •