My first foray into tango was in Victoria B.C. in 1978. I was studying ballet at the time and went to see the Ken Russell film “Valentino” starring Rudolf Nureyev. In the film, Nureyev (as the character Vaslav Nijinsky) danced a tango with Royal Ballet dancer Anthony Dowell. YouTube has since taken this video clip down, but here’s a partial look with some odd music – (Nureyev/Dowell tango)
This was the second time in a short period that I was utterly impressed with how beautiful it could be when two men dance together. (The first time was via Roland Petit’s Ballet of the XXth Century.)
I decided to choreograph a tango for the Vancouver Island Dance Festival that year and enter it into the “Open Choreography” category. My piece was more ballet of course, but danced on the same tango music from the film’s soundtrack. I danced the choreography with my classmate Meg Tilly; an exceptionally exuberant and committed dancer who later went on to New York and enjoy a career in American film and then to become a published writer. (Meg_Tilly)
I won the open choreography competition category. In fact, I was the only one to receive a mark because instead of giving marks to the other entrants in the category, the adjudicator of the festival (Earl Kraul, of The National Ballet of Canada fame – Earl_Kraul) decided to give them some advice on how to construct a choreography. He used my piece as his example.
Before going to Winnipeg that summer I danced my tango once more. This time I danced it with a man; my (new) friend and classmate Gordon Wright. (http://harid.edu/director/) We were to dance it at his (former) school’s end-of-year show in Nanaimo. I chose to dress us in tails, as in the Valentino film that inspired me. So there we were, two grown men (both 25 years of age) closing a dance school show of children and teenagers, looking like a couple of penguins. You can (also) imagine that we weren’t the best at applying stage make-up; we likely looked like vampire penguins.
The choreography was such that we entered with flying leaps from opposite sides of the stage, coming together in a tango embrace down-centre with the closed side of the embrace towards the audience. We had a slight problem with whose arm was to be on top; it was a sort-of ‘oops’ moment. The audience thought they were about to see a comic tango. Oh gawd… I remember being furious that people laughed at our opening and was intent on intensifying my stage presence. We must have been fearsome sight.
In 1980 the Royal Winnipeg Ballet acquired the ballet “Five Tangos” by Hans Van Manen, with music by Astor Piazzolla (Five Tangos). It was huge boost to my confidence that as a first-year corps-de-ballet member I was selected as first-cast in a brand new piece. And being a long-time jazz fan, I was stunned that tango and ‘jazz’ could be fused together in such a manner. In future years I would enjoy a period where I choreographed a fair amount on Piazzolla works; then I simply stopped working with his music.
A week prior to the company’s arrival I received a call from a friend of mine in San Francisco asking if I could arrange some classes for one of the couples in the show. He told me this couple (Elsa-Maria and Mayoral – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y8P2S2qWFQ) was in Vancouver and about to do a promotional event in a downtown nightclub. The event included a one-dance demonstration, a 40-minute introduction to dancing tango, and ended with a ‘competition’ of the newly inducted audience participants. My friend (Valerie Nelson – http://valnelson.ca/) and I won the ‘competition’. The prize was two tickets to see the show, plus an audio cassette of the soundtrack. I went to the show with Val and then saw it three more times. (Because I was a stage hand at the time and knew everybody backstage, I could enter into virtually any theatre and watch shows that I wasn’t working.) I also bought the Dinzel’s ‘how-to’ video cassette. Plus I organized one class for Elsa-Maria and Mayoral. When I met Mayoral to discuss organizing classes for him I took a Flamenco dancer friend of mine (Oscar Nieto – http://www.oscarnieto.com/) to translate for me. I remember at one point telling Oscar that Mayoral seemed to be talking ‘out of the back of his head’ to someone else while his face was turned to me. I didn’t trust or like Mayoral one iota. After the encounter Oscar filled me in on how many Latino Americans view Argentines from Buenos Aires.
Also in Vancouver in 1986 I saw a show called “Tango Varsoviano” (Warsaw Tango). This piece was an incredible work of theatre created by Alberto Félix Alberto, one of the founders of Teatro del Sur in Buenos Aires. Here is an article written for the New York Times in 1988 that speaks about this man and his work. (http://www.nytimes.com/1988/10/23/theater/theater-teatro-del-sur-s-wild-odyssey-to-the-next-wave.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) When Danielle and I went to Bs. As. in 1993 we went to see a show in Teatro Del Sur’s theatre. The article describes his venue well; it held 35 patrons (I counted). And it was a full house the night we were there. The name of the piece that we saw was “En los Zaguanes, Angeles Muertes” (‘In the Hallways, Dead Angels’). We were in awe of this man’s artistry and artistic vision. See for yourself: here’s his blogspot – http://afalberto.blogspot.ca/. Here’s his YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/afalberto.
In 1987 the Main Dance Place in Vancouver presented monthly evenings of works by independent choreographers. The order of the show was chosen the same day of the show, at the technical rehearsal. My “Uptown Downtown Tango” closed the show the night that I was participating in. (downtown_view) Danielle presented a piece that night called “Snow Angel”. I had met her briefly once before; but we spoke a bit more for the first time after the show and agreed to go for coffee sometime. It turned out that we were together for nine years after that, as artistic collaborators, husband and wife, business partners and parents.
In 1988 Danielle was awarded funding to choreograph a piece on the participants of the Professional Programme summer school at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I went there for a short period and we did some choreographic explorations in tango-ballet in our free time. I have this work on Beta, but have never transferred it to another format. Maybe I will one day. There might be a kernel of something interesting.
Danielle decided to remain in Winnipeg that summer of 1988. She brought an idea of hers from Vancouver that she called “The Dance Collective” and thought she could make a go of it as an independent dance artist in Winnipeg. She collaborated with me and two female choreographers for the inaugural evening of The Dance Collective. Danielle and I performed a new tango of mine for the opening night. But it didn’t get many comments, which was more telling than not. (This video is one of a multitude of video tapes that walked out the door in July 1996 when DS took her final leave.) In 1989 however, Danielle’s two other female choreographic counterparts in the Dance Collective venture effectively stole the idea from her by preempting the registration of the name and excluding Danielle from its legal organization. Then they shut her out as a choreographer, ‘allowing’ her to simply dance for them, the new, self-proclaimed ‘directors/creators’ of The Dance Collective. (osties vâches)
Danielle and I married in 1989, in a wheat field, not far from Winnipeg. I designed and made her wedding gown using three types of silk. I was the only one to see her dress up until a few days before the wedding. In 1989 I was enrolled in a B.Ed. program at the University of Winnipeg. But by 1990 Danielle was effectively shut out of her Dance Collective initiative so she decided that we had to move to either Toronto or Montreal in order for her to continue her career in contemporary dance. We chose Montreal and I transferred my studies in education to McGill.