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Review : Che Malambo!

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The Malambo is a typical Argentinian dance performed by men and involving intricate and diverse stomping techniques. Gilles Brinas, a french choreographer, developed a passion for this characterful dance and put together the show Che Malambo!, with dancers from the Argentinian ballet company, Pampa Furiosa.

Presented on November 8 at the Athenaeum theatre  Che Malambo! was shown as part of the Global Rhythms program, curated by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to “American Tap Dance and contemporary percussive arts.”

The show opened with a guest performance from the Chicago-based Mexican Dance Ensemble presenting a typical dance from Veracruz. Composed of both female and male dancers, the Mexican Dance Ensemble also has gifted musicians and singers. The dancers smoothly transition from one geometric design to another, achieving a harmonious unison as they perform the characteristic footwork of the dances from Veracruz. After a few minutes, the cheerful Mexican Dance Ensemble passed the stage over to Gilles Brinas’ all male company for the choreographic tour de force to begin.

The three words that instantly come to mind within the very first seconds of the Argentinian dancers’ performance are: sexy, strong and masculine. Three words that no one would have thought of if the dancers had stayed still; because of their long hair, their form-fitting sleeveless black shirts, skintight trousers, and their almost too graceful and upright stance. But as they start dancing, the audience, captivated, watches them alternate between slow movements, smooth ronds-de-jambe and subtle weight shifts, and demonstrations of precision and strength in high-speed footwork sequences.

Their stance, appearance and gestures are meant to mimic that of horses. Through a combination of stomping, body percussion, clapping and use of boleadoras and bombos the dancers recreate the sound of a galloping horse.

Some passages reminded me of Paco Peña’s sublime flamenco solos I had seen last year at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, yet Che Malambo! seems riskier, more dangerous as the dancers contort their legs in very sharp movements. It seems that they are on the verge on dismemberment, and the visible risk within the choreography creates palpable excitement within the audience.

The dancers of Che Malambo! engage in highly energetic solos and physically demanding group choreography. Their passion is tangible, perceptible to the naked eye: they raise the dust around them as they dance, and sweat drops explode out in the light as they pirouette on stage. Their harmony is outstanding. How can such a large group manage perfect unison while performing this fast-paced and intricate footwork? The Che Malambo! dancers are so quick that the sound of their stomping can’t keep up with their moves.

A whole section of the show is centered on the use of boleadoras, heavy balls at the end of a rope originally used by the Gauchos to capture cattle. The performers control over this unforgiving tool is mind-blowing. Watching the boleadoras sequence, I realized after a while that I had the palms of my hands pressed on either sides of my face and my mouth opened in awe. The rhythm, the colors and the light makes it a key moment of this wonderful performance. As they swing and circle around the performers, the boleadoras seem to turn into giant paper fans and scintillating suns.

Che Malambo! will be at the  Edison Theatre November 22, 23 in St Louis, the last dates of their American tour. Whether dance is your thing or not you will undoubtedly enjoy this explosive performance and the dancer’s genuine passion.

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