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

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