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Tango Fire

At the Winter Garden Theatre

In Toronto on Sunday

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Tango Fire was a presenter's dream -- four sold-out shows, a crush of hopeful people begging for tickets, not to mention a standing ovation replete with whoops and hollers. The slick show from Argentina, under artistic director Carolina Soler, delivered its product as promised. Five attractive twentysomething couples performed tango to the hot sounds of an equally youthful bandoneón ensemble. Soler clearly prefers the energy of young whippersnappers when it comes to tango, and their energy infused the show.

The lure of tango is understandable. From intricate footwork to showy jumps, from dramatic lunges to dangerous lifts, from breathtaking dips to furious turns, the sensuality-drenched dance has developed a mystique all its own.

Soler's young dancers were all virtuoso artists and displayed the glory that was tango in all its infinite variations.

Tango Fire also fielded a stunning array of costumes for the women -- right down to the colour-co-ordinated high-heeled shoes. This was not a show of the basic little black dress. Even the men strutted their stuff from tails to T-shirts, with all kinds of suit jackets and ties in between. This was certainly a production that looked good.

Over the course of Tango Fire, each couple began to show their own personality. Pablo & Mariela were saucy, Ezequiel & Paola were intense, Nelson & Yanina were restrained, Mauricio & Inés were athletic, and my favourites, Luciano & Rocío, were both gymnastic and delicate at the same time.

Tango is an art that grows in layers of subtlety over years of dancing together, and while I missed the absence of the world-weary, wise and melancholic older couples, these bright young things were very physically accomplished indeed. No two numbers were the same, and while they all contained similar elements, they varied in how they were put together.

Each duet also contained a spectacular shtick involving the woman, such as a fall from the man's shoulder that left her upside down, or a long slide across the floor, or a horizontal flip that brought gasps from the audience.

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Oddly, more passion seemed to come from the band Quatrotango. While the dancers were showy, they seemed to lack soul. Perhaps it was concealed by their exuberance. The musical ensemble, on the other hand, was raw and earthy. Leader Gabriel Clenar (piano), Hugo Satorre (bandoneón), Lucas Furno (violin) and Gerardo Scaglione (double bass) poured out their guts.

Like all the other tango shows, Tango Fire began with the tabernas where tango was born at the turn of the past century, and ended with the nuevo tango of the modern age. The first act was a milonga or dance party, set in Café del Tango with tables and chairs, and of course the macho men got into a choreographed tango fight in between the duets. Act Two was the formal show itself. The clothes were fancier and the tango more sophisticated as fusion elements were added from other dance forms, like ballet lifts.

Now here comes the heresy. I am increasingly finding tango shows to be formulaic. There have been attempts in the past to do something more with tango, like a narrative line, but they are few and far between. Most audience members seem content to let each duet demonstrate the tango like glorified ballroom dancing. At this point, I'd appreciate a bit more imagination and substance.

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