Sunday, 21 March 2010

La Milonga de los Consagrados

Those of you who have read my previous blog entries will remember Lucia as my former taxi dancer, and Jerry as her partner and father of their delightful daughter Michelle. In the three years since I left Buenos Aires, they have gone on to found Flor de Milonga, one of the most recent tango events, and to become respected tango exhibitors in the city.

Their friends, Daniel and Miriam, whose father was the famous Enrique "Gordo" Rosich, run a milonga at Humberto Primo 1462. It was to this event that I was to be guest at their table and to see them dance an exhibition of tango milonguero as special show guests.

Humberto Primo is a road that runs the full length of one side of San Telmo, one block from Constitucion, one of the most challenged and challenging barios in Buenos Aires. A sense of unease pervades the area, even today as I walk in the late afternoon sunshine with my dance shoes strapped to my back. I have passed the small shops at almost every street corner, where entry is permitted only as far as the steel roller mesh through which business is transacted, money is passed and goods returned. And just here is Nino Bien, the location of some of the most important milongas in San Telmo.

From the marble entrance way, a wide flight of stairs curves round to the first floor landing from which a ticket can be purchased for 20 pesos. Then through the mahogany doors one reaches the salon. La Milonga de los Consagrados is a proper milonga! At two metre intervals along each wall, tall mirrors rise towards the ceiling. Along the walls are three deep rows of tables with coloured cloths. Tango events occur here most nights of the week, hosted by different organisers who stamp their individuality on their event and find their way in the pecking order of milongas. Towards the stage is the performers' table, and there are to be found Lucia, Gerry and their group of guests, discerning tangueros from the city and beyond.

Tonight is a special event with two exhibitions, the first to be led by Lucia and Gerry. Lucia is described by the old milongueros, the most revered male dancers in Buenos Aires, as their favourite tanguera. They call her 'la flaca Lucia', meaning the thin one, in noticeable contrast to El Gordo Rosich (the fat one). What would be considered to be inappropriate comment about weight or height, here in Buenos Aires, is simply a fact of life that adds a richness to description and is the badge of recognition for milongueros. Of course my aspiration is to be El Grande Twist.

After exchange of hugs, we settle to gentle dancing whilst Lucia and Gerry transform themselves from regular milongueros into show performers. Lucia is wearing an emerald green dress, a flash of satin showing her jet black hair. Gerry is dressed in black with a white shirt open at the neck. Both now exude the glamor of tango.

By this time the room is full of dancers and every table and seat is occupied. Some of the dancers have to stand at the back. We sense the imminence of the performance as a PA system is tested and the deep maroon curtains flex at the stage. With Victorian drama, the curtains are swept to one side and the orchestra appears for the first time. It is Ernesto Franco. This is a huge prize for Consagrados, and perhaps the reason the milonga is full to bursting point. Franco is one of the most important living band leaders. His small orchestra comprises about a dozen players re-create the magic of D'Arienzo, the charismatic band leader who gave to tango a strong dancing beat and popular showmanship. Franco himself is not one to disappoint. He directs the band with a quiet strict approach of beat, then draws from the back row his four violinists who perform centre stage, and as he raises the fever he glances backwards to the appreciative following of dancers and onlookers.

The moment has arrived for Gerry and Lucia to perform. They take to the floor and take the embrace. Light, deft and stylish both dance showing the impossibility of discerning where one move is initiated, progressed, finishes; and another starts. At the end of the show, the audience erupt, and here, see for yourself why you may want to dance tango.

The finale for the band is La Cumparasita, the most famous tango song written by Rodriguez in 1917. This is so frequently played that listeners sometimes become disenchanted with it. But not tonight, and certainly not with Franco's interpretation and energy. At one stage he drops his baton and walks into the orchestra. He then turns and picks up a bandoneon. Something magical is happening. I may not see this event again in my lifetime. This is like a total eclipse, the audience go silent and the dancers cease to dance. Everyone in the salon turns, and the notes rise in slow, sharp ripples of sound. This is a moment of moments, to be ranked alongside a last performance. The final chords cling to the ceiling, the audience tastes the sound; and then it passes as quickly as it arose, with Franco returning to conduct, and dancers returning to their dance. Having bid farewell to and for the moment, I leave; two memories imprinted on my mind and in my soul; those of dance and tango.