Mano returned to Berlin for our 5th tanda on 9/10.September 2017. Our challenge could be no better described than by Elizabeth Gilbert in her exploration of how to write the book after the bestseller. Gilbert draws on art history for succor. The Greeks and Romans gave half the credit (and blame) to ghostlike muses of various skills believed to reside in artists’ studios. Gilbert is especially driven to address the peculiar terrors of the successful artist. “The problem is waking up on Tuesday morning and wondering if the crowds will ever again shout ‘Ole’ (Allah), believing they have seen God incarnate in your dance.”
I call him ‘Mano’ because when I dance I experience his hands intensely. We communicate artistic ideas and the risk status (we are usually at risk) through different kinds and quantity of tension in our hands.
I thank all the gods who grace for steering Mano and me to Clärchens Ballhaus, one fateful Tuesday in August 2015 –a place I had stopped looking at men at all– and for inhabiting his fierce attention until he got mine. And then the next night he walked right through Andreas’ Red camera on his way to find me again at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof Contemporary Tango Festival 2017.
We filmed our Third Tanda the next day, with the graceful assistance of Fritz Schadow in his debut as TangoForge Steadycam #1.
Mano lives in Paris, and doesn’t speak much English. My schoolgirl French has been rendered useless by Castellano and 10 words of Deutsch. We communicate logistics by facebook messenger, with the occasional assistance of translators.
We met next in the dearly departed basement milonga of Tangoloft, on 30.Oktober 2015 for our first live show with DJ Elio Astor, drawing on 30 minutes of practice. All sorts of people said “That was amazing!” Someone said to the organizer of the milonga “I’ll never be able to enjoy regular tango again.”
As I realized from the first video and show that something about our dance moved people, I wanted to figure out how to teach it. I don’t have the idea of keeping something like this to myself! Unfortunately, Mano himself wasn’t all that helpful in describing what he was doing. His teaching is rather standard. So I had to study him and try to articulate it. My theory began with the way in which we enter the dance, which I call “El Encuentro””
Look for the music first, in your own body. Then look for the partner.
Before Mano, I had started to realize this way of dancing with my friend Iwan Harlan. One of us realized a mood in the music and shared it with the other, creating a dynamic or particular expression which we then iterated throughout the song. This is easy when you feel a lot for the music. It’s harder to stay authentic when the music doesn’t move you.
I taught El Encuentro during my Pacific Tour at the end of 2015, including a performance with Hiroe, wrote a blog post about it.
I kept asking the students “Is it tango?”, and they cried “yes!” One exclaimed “this is about the embrace without touching!” Emily said:
“In truth, until now, tango didn’t actually feel like dancing. Now I feel I’m dancing.”
Mano and I performed with DJ Elio Astor improvising in March 2016 at the Roma NeoTango Marathon (no video was made) and in August 2016 at the Contemporary Tango Festival in the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
I continued to develop the pedagogy into a 3-part workshop “Trusting Tango” in which we show that no matter how extreme our movements, they are 100% tango.
- We rely on the Lexicon of Tango for a shared movement vocabulary (all of which existed since 1940, albeit constrained by different bodies and clothing).
- We use tango’s unique technology for communicating direction.
- We organize our skeletons and muscles in tango’s configuration for optimum connection, so that we are able to provide support to the partner at any moment.
Walking tango’s familiar pathways in alternate embraces evoke different emotions.
The whole Crew TangoForge uses this technique now, and we have taught it twice at the Intimacy Milonga at Berlin’s KitKat in 2016 and 2017, as well at the Bremen Neo Tango Rave 2017.
Dancing on Carlos Libedinsky’s new musical project, #Fueye, in mid-2017 was our 5th appearance, as usual with little preparatory practice. I had realized already that to do our dance Mano needs me to share responsibility for the creativity. This is hardest when the winds of fear cool my heart. And to dance only from my deepest feelings, without poses or tricks, harder still. I was keenly aware of my injury (hip flexor strain), of the need to show people that our dance was evolving, and of Mano’s distaste for ganchos. He had taken to blocking them when I visited him in Paris in February 2016. By January 2017, I was perceiving him as somewhere judgmental of my dancing and I was fighting this toxic thought with faith that we have something very special, and he surely knows it too.
I was stressed by realizing that we needed to do something new, perhaps more subtle, and not just rely on our extremity. I knew that I could neither know nor invent the next step, but could only let it find us. I watched and waited.
I learned that El Encuentro must happen continually inside the dance. We must wait for our own feelings, and for one another, inside the dance, even inside a movement, for the spirit to rise from one of us.
I realized that one of the artistic dynamics of our dance is that I break him. The most obvious way that I do this, which you can see easily in our videos, is that I do not like giros, so when he defaults to giros, I break his pattern, usually by breaking the embrace. But I have to find new ways to break him, and I need to keep a subtle awareness of when to break him, and how often.
I learned that one thing which gives our dance such artistic power is that we always go all the way to the edge. The audience are gripped by Mano’s concentration as he pushes me to the moment that my foot slips. We never draw back before this moment. We play by different rules than other dancers. This necessary intensity is what moves the audience so deeply.
In our first ever (and one of the only) actual practice sessions, twenty minutes of calm an hour before our first show, I learned what is Mano’s sorcery as an artist. There are no mistakes. No matter what happens, it is the material from which he makes the next step. We must both commit to every fall and every fail, and turn it into a meaningful and connected moment. When I train the TangoForge dancers I say “never give up the movement. Make it work!”
Physical risk is one aspect of our intensity, another is the emotional range. Outside of the usual tango melodrama (we repudiate approach-abandon-appraoch-abandon), we bring aggressive force into the dance, and contrast it with the tenderness of real interdependence. To move with more force, we have to start with our muscles and weight aligned on one vector, and we need eye contact. Interdependence takes a lot of muscle too.
By trusting the tango technology of connection and communication we are able to dance without the standard embrace, with any kind of touch. This opens another 180 degrees of the dance and the bodies. But the purpose of all that freedom is to express something authentic. For me the first step of this was to kill some automatisms (especially my tendency to twist my hands and arms into protective contractions). Next is to find more range and articulation in the freed joint of the embrace. Last is to continually break every cliché, even my own artistic moves, like placing my hand on his heart.
Videos from 9.10.September are only visible here, because I’m making a special edit for general release. On 10.Sept you can see that I hook my finger into his pocket and from there we support an extreme movement. It’s still tango: we are always looking for connection, but we open the possibilities for what connection can be!