Tanguera review: A tango musical set in sultry Buenos Aires ★★★

It might be a dance associated with raw passion but this love story never really gets the juices flowing, finds Tony Peters

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Since its premiere in Buenos Aires in 2002, Tanguera has become something of a phenomenon and toured the world – it was first performed at Sadler’s Wells in 2010.

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It’s billed as a “tango musical” with a narrative driving the dancing and the dancers playing characters, rather than being a compilation of routines as is usually the case.

It tells the story of a young immigrant, Giselle (Melody Celatti), who arrives in Buenos Aires from Europe with dreams of a better life at the start of the 20th century. Local dock worker Lorenzo (Estaban Domenichini) is immediately smitten, but the naïve Giselle is lured away and seduced by Gaudencio (Dabel Zanabria), a swarthy villain in sharp suit. Well, no good was ever going to come of that.

The plot is painted in very broad strokes and characterisations are far from subtle, but more surprisingly the dancing is also rather lacklustre. There’s nothing wrong technically but it takes a while to really catch fire and the early scenes are very much tango-lite, with none of the passion and Latin intensity that we associate with the dance.

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Melody Celatti and Dabel Zanabria (photos by Manuel Navarro and Herbert Schulze)

It’s not until Giselle has been coerced into prostitution (you saw that coming, right?) and is working as a dancer in a sleazy club where she is feted as the main attraction that we get down and dirty and temperatures rise.

Choreographer Mora Godoy fills the stage with some excellent routines executed with precision by the 30-strong company — exciting scissor lifts and razor-sharp ganchos. The dances blend nicely into director Omar Pacheco’s staging, with the two groups of men — the salt-of-the-earth workers and the drug-dealing villains — facing off across the dance floor. And there are some neatly choreographed fight sequences executed in slow motion as things build to the inevitable tragic end.

But it’s the routines in the show-within-the-show that catch the eye. Whenever we return to the plot, it seems to weigh down the performers’ ability to express themselves. Ironically the artistic device introduced to give the show an extra dimension saps a little of the magic.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the post-curtain call routine where, freed of having to stay in character, these superb dancers show what they can really do.

Tanguera is at Sadler’s Wells until 6 August


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Book tickets for Tanguera from Radio Times Box Office