The Lone Ranger, and criticizing critics

Victor Swoboda is a dance critic for the Montreal Gazette for many years now. He is an astute observer with an open mind and a sincere, direct writing style. I believe Victor is at least tri-lingual. He possesses a natural, practiced reserve and equanimity, in public. He has been an active participant in social partner dancing for decades and he knows his journalist trade well. Victor is highly respected in the overall dance scene in Montreal. Still, because of his position as a ‘critic’, he’s a bit of a “Lone Ranger”; he can’t get too close and retain the objectivity that is central to his work.

Very likely, someone over the years has not liked what Victor has wrote. I’m certain that he would take any criticism in stride, because after all, critics know the nature of criticism, just as anyone who holds an opinion knows the nature of opinions. We exchange, discuss, debate, argue, come to an agreement, or go to war (in the extreme). (Heaven forbid!)

In his Montreal Gazette article for FITM 2013 (Aug. 9) Victor wrote: “El Abrazo includes a local pair, Sanchez and his latest partner, Elyse Dagesse, who last year managed to inspire a little sparkle in his performance.” Victor clearly credits Elyse for the “little sparkle” that (very likely) he’s been looking for in Gerardo’s dancing for 20-odd years.

Or maybe not… it could be that Gerardo’s history as a service provider colours Victor’s opinions because of previous experiences he’s had at Tango Libre. I don’t know. Most of us seek to say something positive about others, but at the end of the day, we all have to deal with our sense of honesty and self-esteem where opinions, criticisms, and/or personal experiences are concerned.

The tradition in newspapers has been that editorial pages allow for opinions, or counter-criticisms on their content. In 1994 Camilla Malashenko wrote occasionally on dance for the Gazette. But she wrote a piece on Les grands ballets Canadiens at the time that was so reckless, the Artistic Director of Les grands felt obliged to challenge her clearly disturbed perspective in an editorial retort. I believe that she never wrote for the Gazette afterwards.

Here’s an article that Madame Malashenko wrote on the Tango Libre show “Amurado” (which was published just prior to the afore-mentioned incident). In her article she describes Gerardo Sanchez as such: “five years ago his love took him to Buenos Aires () where he studied tango to perfection”; and then “(he) is a playwright, an actor, and has directed theatre since 1982.” For those of you doing the calculations, it’s now 2013, 19 years “since perfection”, and finally Gerardo receives a sideways-positive comment from a qualified, respected dance critic that “a little sparkle” was in evidence the previous year, due to his partner.

Camilla-Malashenko-TL--94

Despite the “Master” qualifier that Sylvi Belleau’s marketing strategies over all these years claim that he is, Gerardo is NOT a natural dancer, nor a fast-learner in this domain. He is not a natural performer either. But he never quit.  He has worked consistently to improve his dance and performance skills, so we can presume that he’s going to continue to improve in his chosen profession.

As to his character and skills as a service provider… TL’s (non-cumulative) numbers over 20 years speak to that conundrum themselves. As a teacher of dance? Well, if he’s not a fast-learner as a dancer, it just makes sense that he’s not a fast-learner as a dance teacher. Which begs the question: what the hell has he been ‘selling’ to his clientele all these years?

Gerardo’s first teachers in Montreal plagued him with a fault that I describe as “running to the fifth” on my page “Teaching tango as dance” (http://wp.me/P3uFFE-8A). He was not aware at the time that this ‘dance’ characteristic was even a fault. It is almost out of his body-memory system now, after twenty-some years of more selective, refined influences from real, qualified practitioners and teachers of tango. However, there’s a 2012 improvisational video out there where this body-memory fault is still recurring (albeit faintly).

Still, there’s something positive to say. Several years ago when I was renting space at Tango Libre for a swing initiative, I saw a few minutes of Gerardo practicing with a partner. He was relaxed, unpretentious, fluid, grounded, creative and very much at ease in his own environment. I noticed immediately how much he had improved since the previous time I had seen him dance (live or on video).

Victor Swoboda’s remark as a critic is up for interpretation by the reader and/or the local community that have seen Gerardo in performance and have their own experiences with him at Tango Libre. Truth to tell, I have never gone to see a Theatre Outrement show of FITM. So if he doesn’t get “his latest partner” pregnant and then subsequently dump her for the ‘next one’, maybe I’ll go and see them dance next year.

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In the 1990’s in Montreal, Graffiti Tango got the ‘lion’s share’ of tango press (in three languages). Most of it was good; but not all. What was said about us in print has been posted on this site. What is remarkable is that many of those articles were critiques (or announcements) of our theatrical artistic works. We received some ‘fluff press’ too, of course. ‘Fluff’ is what I call articles that are marketing pieces at their root. The print media reserves space for this type of social-interest reporting on an occasional, or casual basis. These articles describe the social phenomenon that is tango, in the moment.

I think that where Graffiti Tango left its mark in the ’90s was in the (actual) artistic critique arena. Since then, pretty well all the press received by everyone here, including Graffiti Tango progeny, is social-marketing fluff. If there’s anything out there (that I may have missed) about eXtempore danse’s creations, then that would fall into the same artistic category as Graffiti Tango (as do the rare tango pieces by modern dance choreographer Marie-Claude Rodrigue). Make me aware of those critiques and I’ll put them up online. My own take on eXtempore danse’s previous creations performed here is that those two people are unique in Montreal tango, in that (while struggling to make a living in tango) Pablo Pugliese and Noel Strazza continue to pursue paths as true dance artists! (https://www.facebook.com/groups/177669150364)

Don’t get me wrong; ‘social marketing fluff’ occurs all around the world and it promotes social tango in a wonderful way. It gets people interested and INVOLVED! And tango, much more than swing, salsa or ballroom promotes a significant feeling of artistry in the participant.

But there’s a HUGE difference when critiquing a performance by the artistic-minded (and capable!) eXtempore danse or perhaps a show by the inimitable Milena Plebs (for examples), and then having to offer an opinion on a ‘Barbie and Ken’/”Tango Por Export” couple like Fabian and Roxana, or just about any ‘studio-Tango-studio’ staff demo/representation, posted online from Anytown, Anywhere. There are simply very few similarities. And not simply due to the contrasting environments, or atmospheres: dance hall vs theatre; the discipline to achieve a specific quality of product is the difference maker. To me, there are three types of tango shows out there: social dance demos, entertainment pieces (sometimes referred to in the industry as production dance), and artistic endeavours. Think about it. (please ;-)

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Last year I got wind of a “25 years” (?) celebration here in Montreal and I decided to put up this site with all its historical (did I say hysterical? ;-) data, and of course a few opinions of mine. I did this for two reasons: 1) to show the quantity and quality of the tangible contributions that Graffiti Tango made helping to grow the early Montreal tango community, both socially and artistically, and 2) to keep some folks honest – because God knows there’s some DISHONEST people out there, and He ain’t talkin’!!! (God that is ;-)

The blog post before this one that I wrote about “25 years of tango” in Montreal garnered me some criticism because I pointed out the dishonesty of the “25 years” limitation. In pointing out the foibles of the group behind that effort I was told that I have no “class”, that I should be “respectful”, that I’m “hostile”, “hateful” and “bitter”. Phew! and that was me just havin’ some fun! Imagine if I said what I really think??!  ;-)))

For the “25 years” blog I did receive comments other than ‘hate-mail’ – “I love your writing style. It is hugely entertaining. And there are comments you make that I would never make publicly but that I agree with. You are the Lone Ranger, Batman and Dr Evil all melted into one person.” and this: “c’est l’histoire du tango à Montréal la plus honnête et la plus véridique que j’ai lu jusqu’à présent… Tu as l’honnêteté de nommer et de souligner de la contribution de tout les protagonistes de la “communauté” Tango. Bravo.”

I was polite and silent for many, many years. But times change. (I’m old and cranky now. ;-))) And I’ve seen and heard a lot of crap over my time in tango here, in addition to all the wonderful moments that I lived and shared. Now it’s time for me to voice a few opinions and critiques. Please note: there are places on this site for people to leave comments and/or criticisms, as they wish. Please be my guest. I happen to know the moderator of this site. He is a fair and honest man that is open to (self-) criticism, as is clearly indicated in the “Best of Mtl tango (fails)” page here. (http://wp.me/P3uFFE-5y)

signing off for now as…

The Lone Ranger

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