Nélida Rodriguez de Aure, Tango dancer and coach on m¡longa, is among the royalty of Argentine tango. With a career spanning more than 40 years, she has taught Hollywood stars tango’s sultry steps, danced onstage on Broadway, toured the globe with productions and featured in television and films.
But, despite being involved in so many shows over the decades, Nélida admits to initially being ‘a little bit afraid’ of her latest project m¡longa.
The show, which tours the UK in May and June, is choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – who was keen to fuse together his contemporary style with classic Argentine tango.
And when Nélida was asked to be tango consultant to the show, she loved the idea but wasn’t quite sure how it would work out.
“m¡longa was a big challenge for me but also an exciting project because at the beginning we didn’t know what was going to happen with it,” she admits. “All we knew at that point was that it was going to be a fusion of the two types of dance.
“That was really interesting for me because when you have worked for a long time with the same type of dance you risk being at a point where you don’t really have more to do. So when m¡longa appeared I thought ‘I need to see what happens with this project’. I knew Larbi’s other shows and I wanted to know what he was trying to do with tango.
“At first I was a little bit afraid because his work looked so different from my style of work but I was interested to know what I could do to help him with the project.”
Belgian-born dancer and choreographer Cherkaoui, a Sadler’s Wells associate artist, has created more than 20 works including Sutra, Babel and Dunas as well as choreographing for opera, theatre and film. Working with individuals and groups as diverse as Akram Khan, The Shaolin Monks, flamenco dancer Maria Pagés and sculptor Antony Gormley, he has received international acclaim for his ability to fuse different dance styles to create something unique.
m¡longa aims to be a stylish and seductive exploration of a classic dance form as it moves in a new direction. Created in 2013, the cast includes ten Argentine tango dancers, two contemporary dancers and five musicians. It is set to music by Argentinean composer Fernando Marzan, who worked on the soundtrack of the film Evita starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
With Argentine tango having its own specific dance language and being very strongly rooted in the country’s cultural tradition, Nélida wondered how the project would progress.
“When we started work I realised very quickly that Larbi was a genius and a very interesting choreographer,” she recalls. “He was fascinated by the dancers. They had all worked with me in tango and are excellent tango dancers but they hadn’t really done contemporary dance. So he watched them dancing and then he said to me that he could see that they did not have limits to their dancing – he could see that they could do new things and do them well.
“Larbi said he would love to always work with tango dancers because they love to try new things and to come to new ideas.” And Nélida saw how the two dance styles could come together to create something innovative and exciting.
“In m¡longa there are some pieces which have contemporary music and dance, some have tango music and dance, some use tango steps to contemporary music and then we are adding some contemporary movement into the tango. But when you see the show, if you pay attention to the dancers’ legs you find that most of the time you can see tango steps – even when their arms are in contemporary style, their legs are still doing traditional tango steps.
“When we started work with Larbi it was like being in a laboratory because he was always analysing everything. And he was always saying to try ‘this’ or ‘this’ or ‘let’s see what this looks like’ because he was trying to find the real idea. It’s not easy to make a fusion between different dances because they have different dynamics, different timings, different techniques but he found the balance between traditional and innovative. Tango is a popular dance and lots of people feel very passionate about it so he needed to make sure it was real.”
In Argentina a milonga is a social event where people of all abilities come together to practice and dance. Cherkaoui’s show takes us into a late night milonga in Buenos Aires where couples switch, coming together and parting in a seductive series of dances. And when two tourists visit the milonga they bring their own tradition to the mix.
“Argentinian people are very dramatic and passionate – especially about tango,” says Nélida. “And a milonga is a very special place. It’s not like a ballroom, it’s very Argentinian. So when the couple come to the milonga they can see the passion of our tango.
“Tango is different from most other dances because in tango you are the owner of your body and the movements belong to you. When you are in the middle of a milonga you can improvise and you can dance with someone that you didn’t know before. This is the first time you meet them and yet you can dance with him or her as if you had known them for many years. That is because there is a language with the embrace and you are dancing with this person and it’s a special situation. It’s almost like you are in your own bubble.
“In Argentina we grow up with the tango and even when we are very young we learn it. I started to learn ballet and Spanish dance when I was six but then, as I got older, I really wanted to learn the tango. And when I started dancing the tango I could feel the music in my body and it was amazing and within just a few months I was in love with tango. And I have been passionate about tango for all my life. This is what happens with many of the people who dance tango – once they start they can’t stop!”
Nélida has built a successful career out of dancing, teaching and choreographing Argentine tango. In 1970 she met her professional dance partner Nelson Ávila and together they toured the world as Nélida and Nelson. In the 1980s they performed in Tango Argentino on New York’s Broadway and they also featured in the film Tango Bar. Alongside dancing, Nélida has also taught many people to dance – including a few Hollywood stars who have also caught the tango bug.
“We have lots of examples of people who fall in love with tango including famous people like Robert Duvall and Sharon Stone. When I was working on Broadway we taught many people. And one day Robert Duvall said he wanted to learn. And he really wanted to learn. When we were in Washington he came to Washington and when we were in Los Angeles he came to Los Angeles because he was really fascinated by the tango and he danced it very well. Sharon Stone came to Argentina for a month for lessons.
“A lot of people see our tango shows and then they go away and learn. When we tour people will often ask if we can hold classes – in lots of different countries. Many of the dancers in this show will be doing lessons when they visit the different cities. People see tango and then they want to try it. I have worked on shows where you go into the lobby in the intermission of the show and you see people trying to do the dance!
“It is interesting because when I have been dancing the tango on stage I have been totally concentrated on the passion of the dance. That’s all I’m thinking about so I don’t see every bit of audience reaction. And now in m¡longa I am not dancing so I am in the audience and I can see how that passion spreads to the audience. It’s like it goes from the dancers into the audience – it’s very powerful.”
The tour, which begins in Salford on May 16, visits Brighton, London, Birmingham, Southampton, Saffron Walden, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle, is presented by Dance Consortium, a group of 17 British venues working together to bring new and interesting dance to the UK.