Tuesday, December 27, 2016

19. Tango, Pt. 2: Freestyle

For this second entry in our tango series, we'll move away from the structure of the compulsory -- Argentine and Romantica -- tango and move ahead into its looser, choreographed free dance interpretations, along with a quick nod or two to the now-departed original dance.

And as the dance proper goes, perhaps the most useful analogy can be found with Tango Nuevo. The definition of what actually constitutes this concept is muddied -- it can also refer to a style of music used for the dance -- and it's blurry, too, how much this notion of a freer method of instruction, focused on improvisation and the "how" more than the "what" to dance, is itself a subgenre of the tango style. But holistically, it's a convenient framework for the idea of a more freeform take on the tango than that offered by the ballroom world or most traditional forms of Argentine tango, so we'll use this as our touchstone, and offer this "Oblivion" tango -- note the music -- from Claudia Miazzo and Jean Paul Padovani:

Non-compulsory tango in ice dance has most often come as an original dance, such as in the 1996-97 season. The form in that era still suggested some hybrid of ballroom tango attitude and crispness with recognizable Argentine foot play, as demonstrated in this program from Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov, including an enganche at 0:47 followed by a few extended sequences featuring high leg wraps, ganchos and boleos:

So in that alternately theatrical and ballroom-driven ice dance era of the late '90s, a dark, subtle free dance tango was its own kind of nuevo; as the product of young choreographer Igor Shpilband for U.S. champions Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, it was also a sort of foreshadowing of the more freely dance-centered era to come with the institution of a new judging system in the mid-2000s.

It is in many ways a dramatic tango. But it's also a tango that pays much proper heed to its off-ice inspiration, in the kind of ways we've established that compulsories simply could not. Importantly, though frequently more open than permissible in even tango nuevo, its more drawn-out qualities tie it far more closely to the feel of an Argentine tango than the ballroom variant.

And as a leading coach in that IJS era, Shpilband would develop something of a reputation as a tango choreographer, the style proving a particular strength in his side of a creative partnership with Marina Zoueva. This fast-paced but highly intricate "Assassination Tango" for new seniors Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- a rare original dance in the 2006-07 season to completely bypass the (Tango Nuevo) music of Astor Piazzolla -- highlights some of those shifts away from the prior decade's more ballroom-crisp take on the style, and a general sense of Argentine feel:

And a tango free for students Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2010-11 showed some strong contrasts with the stylings apparent in predecessor Punsalan and Swallow's own free; while the references to specific footwork and figures remain, this is a true Golden Age of IJS free, with speed and interesting transitions among the program's primary emphases. The free would develop more polish as the season continued, culminating in Davis and White's first world title, but this early outing, though raw, contains a bit more tango content:

In this post-original dance era, tangos have naturally appeared with slightly less frequency than in previous years, but as a free dance it's proven rather popular among top-ranked couples in the 2016-17 season. And one demonstration in particular pairs a fair degree of intricacy with reminders of the more dramatic, less rushed approach of Punsalan and Swallow's take -- choreographed, coincidentally, by Zoueva:

Next time: The Vintage Tango

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

18. Tango, Pt. 1: The Compulsories

The tango is so ingrained over nine decades of ice dance that in terms of sheer scope, it's too daunting to tackle as a single post. And so we'll begin instead with the fundamentals of tango on ice -- and progress from there.

It's lent its stylings to two senior compulsory patterns, arisen in five seasons for original dance usage -- and once as a secondary short dance rhythm, one of those topics we'll discuss at another time -- and otherwise functioned as the focus of countless more free dances. Of all specific partner dances, none can be more relied upon to appear annually than the tango.

The Argentine Tango compulsory, and its fellow far rarer Tango compulsory, date to that 1930s spell of compulsory development, as the two-decades-long craze for organized partner dance hit the ice. The Argentine tango proper had in fact become something of an international sensation in this period, making this a reasonably timely adaptation -- though, ironically, concurrent with the dance's temporary decline in its actual South American homeland.

The compulsory dance is meant to emulate its counterpart with "sinuous" quality, "skated with strong edges and considerable elan." It's tough to be sure which specific Argentine tango should best inform a skated pattern; certainly distinctions can be noted just between Argentine dance as a genuine street dance and the polished show style presented by professional champions Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone:

Yet another example would come via the fairly formalized competitive level of Argentine tango, though such examples as available on YouTube are hit and miss in terms of either video quality or video-friendly dynamism as compared with other types. Regardless, what tends to separate street from stage and floor is that more casual quality; the footplay and ganchos are present, but the hold is a bit looser, the pace a bit more spontaneous. This basic tutorial video covers some primary figures and steps; Wikipedia is useful for a more detailed overview of movements you'll easily recognize.

The Argentine compulsory is strikingly different from the dance by immediate means of its frequent open, non-face-to-face hold; a related lack of footwork interplay also signals the distinctions. But in sections like the interdependent steps from 0:54-0:56 and 1:28-1:31 in this skate from Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, there is some sense of tango's footwork:

But it's a very rare Argentine compulsory that includes a touch of in-pattern embellishment to reference the dance's footplay -- and fittingly, it comes in the last-ever skate of the pattern at an elite senior event:

Watch those feet at 0:53 and 1:28; you won't see those motions in other couples' presentations, and it's no accident here.

The other major tango compulsory, the Tango Romantica, was born of Ludmilla Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov's 1973-74 original set pattern dance. No video appears to exist of the dance as competed, but this very early 1980 compulsory outing from Natalia Linichuk and Gennedi Karponosov -- coached, as noted by commentator Debbi Wilkes at the top, by Romantica creator Elena Tchaikovskaia -- demonstrates how significantly the formal trappings of '70s and early '80s era ice dance suggests the feel of ballroom tango far more than Argentine:

While a multiple-compulsory-per-event need for versatile costuming helping to preserve this ballroom aspect well into the '90s, as demonstrated in 1992 and 1996, things began to shift in the IJS era. And by the compulsory's final outing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, here skated by segment leaders Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, we can see how much the Argentine "feel" had slipped in despite no change to the pattern proper:

Next time: The Choreographed Tango