Tango Fire, Sadler’s Wells, London

“A vertical rape”, Jorge Luis Borges said of the tango. That was just a whisper exaggerated, I would suggest, but certainly the attitudes of a tango couple is of sexual electricity – although not, perhaps, of very high voltage. For all that the troupe is Argentina’s Tango Fire, and that the show is entitled Flames of Passion, the erotic charge is more acrobatic than lustful. Indeed, the event indulges in so much Apache-dance manipulation of the women that the plea of a headache is probably welcome.

The evening’s components are absolutely basic: five couples, a few tables and chairs, good lighting, gents’ natty suitings and brilliantine, somewhat over-the-top frockery for the women (sequinned embroidery is dangerous, no matter where it finds itself – but especially on the lower back) and a superb quartet (bandoneon, piano, double bass, violin) of untiring virtuosity. Et voilà tout! There is also a singer, riven by emotion, pouring his heart out to us more than generously, and wearing the last pair of co-respondent shoes in captivity.

It is all such great fun, because the tango itself is so fascinating, so seemingly adaptable, so encouraging of sinuous or blazing dance and music. There are sublime Piazzolla tangos on offer, sensational in wit and drama and fascinating sonorities, given with no less fascinating artistry by the musicians.

The cast do what they do with most eager abandon and dizzying, slashing legs and feet. The five couples are gifted, seriously adept, and beguilingly able to involve themselves in the arbitrary confrontations, the sexually charged poses and lightning-flash dramas of the tango.

I note that acrobatics seem increasingly to be a part of the language of the troupe, with bodies (female, of course) raised in the air as trophies, tossed and spun on a factitious tide of passion and generally given the heave-ho. I find this – curiously, in view of the tango’s history of not-unwitty sexual stereotyping – an act of supererogation.


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