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On Center: ‘Cowboy’ performers demonstrate that roots of dance in Argentina go deeper than tango

by on February 01, 2018 11:17 AM

The Eisenhower Auditorium stage will be swimming in testosterone March 15 when Che Malambo, an all-male Argentinian dance company, performs a spectacle of percussive dance and music.

Malambo is a blend of precision footwork, rhythmic stomping, drumming, and song that originated in the 17th century in the South American pampas (lowland plains). It evolved from duels among Argentine gauchos (South American cowboys) that tested agility, strength, and dexterity. It soon came to include what is now its hallmark, zapeteo, a fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses.

“Malambo is traditionally a competitive form, and its aggressiveness, as the dancers repeatedly challenge one another and storm the stage in packs, amounts to a kind of one-note machismo,” writes a New York Times reviewer. “… But that doesn’t detract from the fascinating aspects of the form itself: the pawing, galloping footwork and legwork, which often accelerate into a swiveling blur of motion below the waist; the astoundingly elastic ankles that support balancing, improbably, on the outside edges of the feet; the speed with which the dancers, their chests held proud and legs darting out from under them, can swallow up space.”

Che Malambo, born from the heart of the gaucho tradition, thrills audiences around the world in its production created by director, choreographer, and former ballet dancer Gilles Brinas.

“The show’s most mesmerizing component is the use of boleadoras, entwined cords attached to heavy stones,” notes the New York Times writer. “Whirled like lassos or jump-ropes, one in each hand, these add both an aural and visual layer to the choreography. The sound of the stones hitting the floor converses with the feet and bombos (cylindrical drums), while the image of the cords whipping through the air, under deep red lighting, looks almost like a digital effect.”

While Che Malambo’s two-act performance is based on centuries of tradition, the presentation features theatrical innovations. The first act unfolds with ferocity, but act two softens the mood and introduces moments of humor.

“The men are handsomely and simply costumed in sleek black, and lighted in Brinas and Joshua Paul Weckesser’s now-moody, now splashy lighting design. We are seeing a stylized, perhaps subtly tongue-in-check portrayal of the Latino Marlboro Man,” observes a Boston Globe critic. “… Because the dancers’ torsos are held erect throughout, the hips usually initiate directional shifts, and those swivels are at times as speedy as the feet. Brinas’ men execute the pivots and footwork with exquisite— and mystifying — clarity. In theory, their feet should be a blur, but each movement is articulated.”

The presentation is part of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative. Funds from across the university and throughout the community support the initiative. Penn State’s Equal Opportunity Planning Committee provides lead funding. Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support. Learn more about the collaborative at cpa.psu.edu/diversity.

The Passionate Supporters of Dance sponsor the performance. The Penn State International Dance Ensemble Endowment provides support. For tickets and information, visit cpa.psu.edu or phone (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.

 

 

 

 



John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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