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Thalia heats up with world premiere of Tango show

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It actually takes 12, when you add a world-renowned maestro, a sweeping quintet of strings, a tango pianist, an accomplished singer and two couples with mesmerizing moves. And when each of their talents combine, it makes a musical. The world premiere of "I Love Tango" opened last Thursday at the Thalia Theatre - the only Spanish playhouse in Queens - and the show has an assembled cast as diverse as the borough itself. The five-piece string section is straight from Uruguay, the pianist from Argentina and the director from Spain, and they've come together to share their love of the music of tango and an ardent appreciation for the man creating it, Maestro Raul Jaurena. Jaurena is considered among the greatest masters of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument that creates the melancholic melodies the tango is famous for. Both an accomplished performer and composer, Jaurena has written arrangements with violinist Yo-Yo Ma, performed at the White House and was nominated for a Latin Grammy. He is a native of Uruguay and has lived and performed all over the globe, but he got his start in the United States at Thalia in Sunnyside, and he has returned to its stage over the past 15 years to show his appreciation. This year they are returning the favor, devoting their annual tango production to his life's passion - his music."In the past we've developed the musical around a story," said Angel Gil Orrios, the artistic director at Thalia who collaborated with Jaurena on the production. "But this year we are dedicating it to his body of work. The main protagonist is the music." Jaurena wrote 14 new songs for the musical, combining elements from the traditional folkloric tango, called mionga, and the newer jazz-influenced style. But he says that no matter how the music is conceived, there is an element of him within it. "The tango is passion, it is power," Jaurena said last Thursday before the show began. "There are so many different expressions, but when I create the music it comes not from my bandoneon straight to you, it's from the bandoneon, inside me, to you. Tango is my life."Yet Jaurena says he's always willing to find outside influences for his music as well. For this production, he worked closely with the dancers, Sandra Buratti, Maximiliano "Gytano" Paradiso, Carolina Jaurena and Ivan Terrazas, as they developed their choreography, tailoring his music to their movements and personal style. "It's the same way that you go to buy clothes, you have to find the perfect fit," Jaurena explained. "This year, the choreography is created exactly for the song." The result is a seamless performance that showcases each element of the tango brilliantly.The dancers performing in the show agree that the music has a powerful effect. "Having the orchestra creates a more symphonic, expanded sound and it makes you really grow," said Paradiso. "Your posture changes, you can feel it in the bones. It makes you imagine about the story behind each song." Orrinos said that the annual tango musical held each winter at the 28-year-old theatre is their most popular production, noting that it has become a tradition each year that the crowds have come to expect around Valentine's Day. Although 45 percent of the audience comes from nearby Hispanic neighborhoods in Queens, he says visitors come from all over the tri-state area to watch the performances, even if Spanish isn't their strong suit. "Tango has its own language," Orrinos explained. "It is couple-oriented, sensual and intense. Nobody talks while they dance; they are concentrated on the feelings that the music reflects. And the audience is able to understand."Indeed, the audience sat silent during the performance last Thursday, breathlessly enjoying the dancers as they finessed their fancy footwork across the stage. The music of Jaurena's bandoneon was large enough to fill the room, but coupled with the orchestra it created a rich, emotional sound. The singer, Marga Mitchell, began by flirting with the crowd, and her powerful voice and compelling stage presence left them all smitten. After the performance ended, the audience was eager to share their impressions."The music was just captivating," said Miriam Friedman, of Manhattan. "In a larger show, you often must tolerate the music to enjoy the dancing, but this was far better than Broadway." Her friend Sinita Aggraivae, of New Jersey agreed. "It was so polished," she said. "The time just passed so quickly. We didn't want it to end." Fortunately, the hour-and-a-half long show will run for eight more weeks, with performances Thursday through Sunday and a special engagement on Valentine's Day."I've seen almost every show here for the past few years," Friedman said. "But I can't wait to see this one again."

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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