15 jul 2008

I'm sure it's been said before, but I'll say it again--YouTube is a blessing and a curse for tango.

On the one hand, it's great to have instant access to clips from Gustavo and Giselle, Chicho and Juana, Javier and Andrea, Miguel Angel and Milena, Pepito and Suzuki, etc. I'm sure this is one of the major contributors to the huge acceleration in progress time for recent dancers. On the other hand, the allure of watching live performance has definitely plummeted. I remember how it was a big deal to come across a video of the CITA performances, how on special occasions a teacher would schedule a broadcast ahead of a milonga, setting up a big screen TV and some rows of chairs and everyone would gather and be awed by what they saw. Or when a show like Forever Tango came to town we would snatch up the tickets and be swept away by the production.

Now, at least for myself, it's really hard to feel excited about seeing anyone perform, with the notable exception of friends who I admire and want to cheer. The novelty of movement is pretty much gone for me. Choreography, in particular, leaves me cold. I concede that watching a performance live is a different experience from watching something prerecorded, but even so I'm generally kind of meh about it.

Maybe that's not completely accurate, though. Maybe it's not *all* performance that I'm tired of, but just the look at me! stuff. All the fancy kicks and acrobatics, the exaggerated melodrama. When I think about it, I'm often more compelled by very quiet, slow movements. I suppose it's a matter of dramatic tension. It kind of reminds me of something that my favorite pianist said; to paraphrase, it's not the fortissimos that make the biggest impression on an audience, but the silences.

Also, it's important that a performance feels honest to me. By that I mean there isn't the feeling of something that's been planned out, or of movement for movement's sake, or of manufactured emotion or connection between the partners beyond the mechanical. I suppose this is why I can be mesmerized by some performers' social dance while feeling more disinterested in their actual performance tango.

Anyway, what got me onto this subject was the Friday night milonga for Nora's Tango Week, the "Graduation Night" milonga where all the instructors put on a show midway through. They were great, as to be expected, although I felt that they were saving their "A" material for the next evening which was the final Celebration Milonga to cap the festival. And not to disrespect any of the other maestros, but to be honest the only reason I went was to see Gustavo and Giselle Ann. I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for this couple, but I have to admit that seeing them perform live didn't inspire me as I thought it would. Again, perhaps it was because they were saving their better performances for the following evening, or that they were tired from performances from the previous evening. But I do believe that some of the effect was diluted by the accessibility of their performances online, which I watch with some regularity.

Fortunately, they later did a bit of social dancing and it was fascinating to see how they executed in the compromised space of such an unruly dance floor. They managed to maintain a fairly high level of dynamic energy but there were also plenty of instances where they had to tone things down considerably, and in these moments there was often the sense of a lot of tiny accentuations where they were playing with complex rhythms in the music. Also, their bearing is really compelling, in part because it seems to be a combination of some directly opposing projections. On the one hand they are *super* authoritative on every movement they make--everything is done with great strength, clarity and intensity. Yet at the same time their is a casualness about the movements, almost an absentmindedness about it, as if the complex things they do are the most natural, obvious, inevitable things in the world. To go back to a piano analogy (for some reason I can't resist today), it's like how someone described meeting Horowitz and mentioning a particularly tricky passage from a Chopin concerto, to which Horowitz sat down at the piano and played the passage "as if it just tumbled from his sleeve."

Anyway, if I had a choice to go back to the days before YouTube or to have things as they are now, I'd pick the latter, even though I do feel something has been lost. I guess it's a similar feeling to when you discover something great that few others know about, but then everybody finds out about it and the thing gets hugely popular, there's that feeling that the thing that was so special for you isn't quite as special anymore. Or maybe it's just the curse of too much knowledge, where nothing is really mysterious or magic anymore. Ah well...

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