Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Agustina Vignau y Hugo Mastrolorenzo at Yira Yira

Friday night is Yira Yira milonga in Humberto Primo 1462, a location which some readers will recognize from a previous blog about Los Consagrados. 

On different days and nights, different organisers arrange their particular milonga at the most popular venues, of which Humberto Primo 1462 is one. Yira Yira is organised by Ana Dani, making it one of the more popular events in the week and a must for a Friday night. 

We set off from Casa Luna to walk the few blocks along San Jose. The night is close, but dry. The evening feels relaxed. We are just two days from Christmas Day, but there is little sign of Christmas festivities or decorations. Occasionally coloured lights may flicker, but otherwise is it just another night in the city.

Tonight Stephanie and I sit with Porteno friends at their table. Not quite together - just slightly apart, for together would signify that we were there 'as a couple' and reduce the invitations to dance. Where you sit at a milonga can make all the difference between 'another night' and 'a special night'. The local regular milongueros know who sits where, who to cabeceo, and generally who not to invite to dance. Likewise, the discerning visiting tanguera is looking to dance with Portenos and not tourists, and a seat at the back with another English, Dutch, German or American is not the best place to be.

Stephanie and I dance our first tanda together. As we enter the pista we feel the moment of inspection from tangueros at tables alongside the pista. The question of status at the milonga is all to do with tango skills. Everyone arrives equal, but soon to be divided into those with recognisable skills and those without. The first tanda establishes one's place in that order. Experienced tangueros lose interest if tango skill is not immediately evident, the less skilled watch for the duration of the first song. Shortly afterwards, Stephanie is cabeceod by one of the older milongueros. Success!

I dance a series of tandas with different tangueras, some local and some tourist. The dancing here at Yira Yira is smooth and unhurried. There is an adherence to the codigos of tango - the rules governing behaviour on and off the dance floor. We make gentle progress around the floor, aiming to conclude the tanda at the exact point at which we started - meaning that the woman is right by her table, rather than having to be walked back across a crowded floor. 

It is then that I receive a mirada from across the pista. I have seen her dance; she rarely misses a tanda unless declining to rest. She is taller than many of the Portenos, suggesting that she may be a visitor too. But she dances with experience and grace. She rises as I reach her seat. We step onto the pista. Our embrace is unhurried...slow...tender....expressive. I sense her balance and we step into the dance. We walk. 

This is a different experience from that hitherto. She is an exceptional dancer, totally at home on the pista. There are moments of pace; and others of gradual movement, as if unwinding seamlessly. Some moments seem to pause and cling in the air, our breathing totally synchronised. 

The codigos - traditions - require that conversation is confined to that moment between the three or four songs of a tanda. The first song over, she speaks in Castillano, asking me whether I am Porteno. I say no, and we smile, me being flattered to be so asked, her for the success of her piropo. 

Each song brings a further delight. As we become familiar with each other's weight and style, our dance becomes more complex - not in steps, but in intention. I lead, she plays. I invite, she accepts, perhaps with a breath or fleeting decoration. I inhale, she lifts. I stride, she responds. 

The tanda is over too soon. We finish right against her table. I stroll back to my seat with a grin.

As I reach the end of the salon, the lights change. Now is the moment you, my readers, have been waiting for, and almost certainly why you are reading this particular blog. The performance.

I noticed him first. It was his hair. Dyed blond, a flap of thick hair to the crown, the sides shaven. In fact he looked out of place at this milonga, belonging in appearance more appositely to a rock concert. His jacket bore patches of dust; his trousers baggy and shapeless. Then I noticed her. Quite tall, slim, beautiful, with an impossible flexibility. 

She wears a dress that is slashed to the navel, the front covered with roses. They enter the pista, not as do other performers, but with a singularity that is hard to capture in words. Yes, these are the Stage Tango World Champions of 2016 and don't we know it. Not from the point of view of arrogance, of which there is no sign whatsoever, but simply from the massive level of performance and technique and style. Their tango is one of angst, each rose being ripped from her dress - by him and by her. Our emotions are exhausted simply by the display, but our sense of occasion is heightened by their skills. It is one of those times when you look back with memories and say "I was there"....it was President Kennedy's death; it was the birth of a child; it was Queen's last concert together. 

'Stage tango' takes tango to another level, one unreal for social tangueros, but presenting a show-case of the core skills. We watch in wonder, spellbound. Moments or rippling applause pepper the performance, but most sit or stand wrapped by the moment. As the first part of the performance concludes, the audience break into cheers of excitement. And Hugo y Agustina leave the floor.

For their last performance of the night, Hugo wears 'that jacket', its meaning now clear. Between them they carry a bird cage containing a helium balloon. This is the dance that propelled them to World Champions earlier this year, as controversially as the way in which Piazzola entered the tango scene. No one doubted their right to be champions; but some were simply not ready for the drama of their performance. The audience falls silent. The dance is not to music, but to voice. Their expressions are those of mime, as much as of tango. 

They, and the cage, take the applause as actors in the most remarkable event. No formal bows, here are peeking displays to the crowded tables, as if the performers are glancing through windows to the world. Tangueros dart to capture the momento of a fallen rose. 'Memorable' is too unmemorable a word. 'Life changing' would be a word too far. But somewhere between is the correct and appropriate description of a feeling danced. And we know that, if Buenos Aires deliveres no more, this would have been enough.

It is later at Casa Luna with a glass of chilled white wine, that we reflect. A bright red paper rose lies between us.  Will we see the like again? Perhaps we may; but not as it was this night, in the steamy milonga of Ana Dani at Yira Yira, with the swell of Portenos, and the knowledge that the memory is for ever ours.