If you’re not ready to give in to an autumnal chill in the air, one of the hottest places to be right now is decidedly Teatro de la Luna. In its Friday night series, Noche de Luna: Tango Show, the theater offers many reasons to be amazed, delighted, and charmed by this series.
The first reason is the music that provides the scaffolding for the night. Led by musical director, composer, and bandoneon player Emmanuel Trifilio, the group also includes Cristian Perez on guitar and Jon Nazdin on double bass.
The music chosen by Trifilio for the October 18 performance brought back some old, familiar works like “Por una cabeza” (lyrics: Alfredo Le Pera; music: Carlos Gardel) that was featured with Al Pacino in the film Scent of a Woman.
Other selections were relatively new, for instance “Una Noche en la Habana,” which Trifilio wrote in 2017 on his way back from Cuba, where he had been invited to perform with the National Symphony. Still more recent was the world premiere of “Rubias,” which Trifilio wrote just two weeks ago.
As is the way with tango music, either the double bass or guitar (in the expert hands of Perez) offers an introduction, but the song doesn’t really get underway until Trifilio begins to play the primary melody.
One of the greatest delights of the evening is watching Trifilio engage with his bandoneon, bending his whole body to make sure all the emotions written into the music – love, joy, sadness, nostalgia – are delivered to maximum effect. One of the advantages of the bandoneon is that it can be played very softly, offering a barely audible tone. The next moment it can be stretched to its full length, blasting a very forceful, profound musical statement. Trifilio takes his instrument to both limits.
The second reason this series is so impressive is that the dancers – Jessica and Rene – have so little room to perform their art and yet they never miss a beat. The musicians are arranged at the back of a small stage, leaving the dancers a rectangular area no more than seven feet by twelve feet. At the beginning of each dance, the individuals stand facing one another at opposite sides of the stage, then begin the slow, deliberate approach toward one another until they finally assume the ballroom position and wait for the music to propel them into their complex dance.
Teatro de la Luna’s production stresses the dancers’ technique, the precision with which Jessica and Rene perform their perfect ochos (figure-eight foot movement) and cruzadas (where one dancer’s foot crosses in back or in front of the other foot). They demonstrate some of the most intricate tango moves, for instance where the woman extends one leg out as far as possible and her partner whirls her whole body around his several times. Or the barrida, where the woman’s foot sweeps the floor. Of course, both Jessica and Rene did impeccable brisk little kicks between and around each others’ legs as well as the enganchos, frozen moments when the dancers wrap their legs around one another.
The end result of seeing this couple dance in such a small area is that it brings home one inescapable truth about the tango, that it is less about what happens in horizontal space and more about what happens to the feet and torso in a compact, vertical space. It also is a reminder that Argentinian dance floors are not vast expanses. As Trifilio explains, Teatro de la Luna’s vision of a tango floor is very much an accurate representation of a real Argentinian tango salón – more intimate than grand.
Of course, although this presentation emphasizes the dancers’ brilliant technique, good tango is not just about timing. Jessica and Rene are a very attractive, charismatic couple. Everything from their clothes to their posture – from the abrazo cerrado (closed embrace) where the man guides the woman with his torso, to the open embrace where they stand slightly farther apart – contributes to the impression that tango is rightly about romance, love, and passion. The tall, lithe Jessica is dressed in a tight, off-one shoulder, sparkly red and black dress. She wears high-heeled golden dancing sandals. Equally tall Rene is dressed in a black velvet jacket and black slacks, a tiny red boutonniere on his lapel. He wears black suede shoes, with red soles and shoelaces.
As artistic director, Mario Marcel, from Argentina himself, brilliantly melds the music and dance.
The small theater is filled with chairs and tiny cocktail tables. In the lobby, one can buy food and wine, beautiful woven goods and shawls from Paraguay, and CDs of Trifilio’s music.
Whether you happen to be an expert tango dancer or a complete beginner, whether you speak Spanish or English (Trifilio’s narration is in both), there is plenty to enjoy in this unique presentation.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Noche de Luna: Tango Show plays on select Friday evenings at Teatro de la Luna – 4020 GeorgiaAvenue, NW in Washington, DC. The next performance is December 13, 2019, at 8:00 pm. For tickets, call (202) 882-6227 or go online.