Celebrating tango's sensuality

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Celebrating tango's sensuality

The tango is more than a breathtakingly beautiful harmony of movement and rhythm.

It's a distinctive style of music played on the piano, violin, double bass, cello and bandoneon (which looks like an accordion, but actually is a kind of concertina squeezebox). It's dancers with asymmetrically aligned shoulders, delicately yet dynamically crisscrossed legs and barely touching chests, who exchange intense gazes as they sweep across the floor. And it's splendid costumes, sleek tuxedos and sexy satin dresses.

Tango spread from the brothels of Argentina to European high society in the early 20th century. Its sultry yet sentimental music is about abandoned, lonely souls seeking that same desire in others. When one dancer encounters another, lost in the memories of romance, the two move with controlled yet explosive passion. Together, they become one heart through their close, gliding steps.

In 1999, the mesmerizing performance of "Forever Tango" captivated local audiences. It was the Seoul Arts Center's second biggest ticket seller that year. Residents were enthralled by its physicality and sexuality.

In dance studios across the city, they tried out the tango's romantic sensuality, getting a strenuous workout in the process. Instead of boring aerobics exercises, middle-aged women and men suddenly took up tango classes, which were also offered in sport clubs.

Kong Myung-kyu, a former taekwondo master who emigrated to Argentina in 1980 and returned to Korea as a tango dancer and instructor, became a leading tango dancer. Since 1997 he has been promoting tango culture in Korea through his own academy and performances.

Tango musicians from abroad have been invited to perform at major performing arts centers. Among the most recent have been the Japanese bandoneon performer Ryota Komatsu and the Korean-Argentine tango musicians Duo Orientango.

While "Forever Tango" was a musical built around the tango, "Fascinacion de Tango" is an authentic tango straight from Buenos Aires. As the highlight of the fifth Seoul International Dance festival, "Fascinacion de Tango" runs nearly two hours in length and involves more than 30 scenes. Seven pairs of Argentine and French tango dancers, and three singers ?Marcela Bernado, Osvalda Cerati and Raul Funes ?pay homage to legendary Argentine tango performers such as Carlos Gardel, Juan D'Arienzo, Astor Piazzolla. They also portray the golden era of tango in Hollywood. The troupe will showcase several repertories from such classics as "La Voz de Buenos Aires," "Porque Cantamos," "9 de Julio" and "Canaros en Paris."

"Fascinacion de Tango" was first produced by Alain de Caro at the Theatre de l'Empire in Paris in 1997, followed by tours of Switzerland, Germany and Belgium before returning to the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris two years ago. Reviewing the production, the Paris newspaper Le Figaro wrote, "Women who have been with the tango here have changed their lives. ... Sexy dresses and high heels, please." The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Men make their partners fly. ... and those far away in the balconies become crazy, crazy."




Various artists selected by Ryota Komatsu | Sony

The Japanese bandoneon performer Ryota Komatsu thinks "Piazzolla Lovers" is a good collection for long-term aficionados of the tango heritage. This album of 15 classic tango tunes starts brilliantly with "Libertango," from the sound track to "The Tango Lesson," played by the celebrated cellist Yo-yo Ma.


Composer, Astor Piazzolla | EMI

Astor Piazzolla, the great genius from Buenos Aires, was adored and scorned by the tango establishment. His music dared to be different. It spoke to the next generation of tango, heralding what was to become "nuevo tango." This double album pays tribute to the composer and bandoneon player; "Adios Nonino" is included.

LA TRAMPERA Ryota Komatsu | Sony Music

Tango reached its height of popularity in Japan in the mid-1980s. Ryota Komatsu taught himself the bandoneon at age of 14, and performed live at the club Buddy, leading his five-member band, Tanguist. This album has light, free, personal tango compositions by the 29-year-old musician.

SWEET TANGO Various Artists | EMI

This double album is an outstanding introduction to tango. The compilation CD includes music that has been in movies, on television and in advertisements. "Por Una Cabeza," the tango from "Scent of a Woman," is here, as is Astor Piazzolla's "Liber Tango." There are 31 songs, from classics to newer arrangements.


Sung Kyung-sun and Jung Jin-hee | Huks

Sung Kyung-sun, born in Busan, moved to Argentina in 1991 to play violin. Jung Jin-hee moved there in 1993 to play piano. Together they created Orientango. Last year, they were the first Asians to perform at the National Music Hall of Buenos Aires. Their album includes interpretations of Carlos Gardel's "Por una Cabeza," and Piazzolla's "Adios Ninos," "Oblivion" and "Libertango."


Composer, Lalo Schifrin | Universal

At the beginning of his career, Lalo Schifrin worked with Astor Piazzolla, emerging from that collaborative experience with a continually transforming musical style. Schifrin, who has since won four Grammys and been nominated six times for an Oscar, composed the music for this erotically-charged movie. Cuts also include selections from Piazzolla, Salgan and Canario.




There are three different types of tango: Argentine, American and Continental.

Argentine tango is the traditional dance. It involves a lot of foot movement and is the most spontaneous. American tango is more structured and the steps are more in time with the musical phrasing. Continental tango uses a lot of head movement, is highly structured and the kind most commonly seen in dance events.

There aren't any formal tango costumes, but for Argentine tango, men tend to wear tuxedos and women wear frilled and split skirts. For continental tango, women wear passionate red dresses. The shoes can be bought in most dance stores.


Location: 1st fl. COSMO Building, 1534-5 Seocho 3-dong, Seocho-gu

Contact: (02) 525-7236,7


Location: Camp 21 Officetel 1009, 12-40 Daeheung-dong, Mapo-gu

Contact: (02)6372-4172, www.danzkorea.com


Feela Dancing Just For You

Entrance fee: 7,000 won

Sports dance on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tango on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays from 6-10 p.m.

Location: 4th floor, Feela Dance Building, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu. Subway line No. 7, Gangnam District Office subway station, exit no. 2,

Contact: (02) 512-5667







INTERVIEW with Hector Falcon and Maria Guillermina Quiroga

The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition spoke with Hector Falcon and Maria Guillermina Quiroga, two of the stars of "Fascinacion de Tango," immediately after their arrival in Seoul on Wednesday. Falcon is a renowned dancer and choreographer. Quiroga is considered the "prima donna" of Argentine tango. She visited Seoul two years ago to perform in "Forever Tango."

What is tango's meaning to you?

Falcon: Tango is my life. For me, it's a very special way of expressing my feelings. I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, where tango developed, and I can feel tango everywhere in my town. Not many young people these days dance the tango. But I learned when I was very young because my parents, uncles and aunts all danced tango. For the past 15 or 20 years, tango music and dance from my parents' generation, the 1940s and '50s, have been popular. Ever since its resurgence, I've been performing tango all over the world; this is my ninth trip to Asia.

Guillermina: I dance what I feel, expressing not just the steps but the passion, love and spirit. That's what makes tango so beautiful -- it's about connection. When you do it, you give and take, and then take and give; the feelings rebound. I learned that feeling when I first took up tango at age 23. I was born near Buenos Aires, and first danced ballet which is the opposite of tango. When I saw Copes and Marie Nierves dance tango on television, I had a burning desire -- but not the courage -- to learn how to dance, thinking it would be too hard to learn. But the day I decided to learn tango, I never went back to ballet!

It takes two to tango. Do you have an ideal partner?

Falcon: I've danced with the same partner, Susanna Rojo, for about 10 years. It's all about chemistry. With different partners, the dance is different -- every time -- and that's what makes tango interesting.

Guillermina: Tango exists in the subliminal and subconscious state of the dancer's mind. Many people think tango is about connecting legs or a lot of footwork, but it's connecting souls and using intuition. With different audience, atmosphere and partner, every dance becomes totally different.

What are your future plans?

Falcon: I'm touring the United States and Canada in January.

Guillermina: I'll choreograph and play the lead in a movie called "Valentina's Tango" which is being filmed in Los Angeles.


INTERVIEW with Kong Myung-kyu

Taekwondo was on Kong Myung-kyu's mind when he first heard tango. Having emigrated to Argentina to teach the martial arts, "I wasn't interested in tango," he admits.

But in order to reach his Argentine students, he needed to understand their culture. And the more he studied their culture, the more he delved into tango. "Tango is such a deep part of the Argentine culture," says Mr. Kong says, who moved to South America in 1980. "Tango became unavoidable."

And not just unavoidable, but a music and movement that he began to deeply appreciate. Ultimately he found himself bowing farewell to taekwondo and spending his time learning tango.

"Tango is healthy for your body and your mind," he says. "You never tango by yourself. The dance is relational, which means that you are always communicating with another person. When you listen to the music, your body automatically perks up. As your posture physically strengthens, life becomes that much more positive."

He returned to Korea in the late 1990s with an Argentine partner. He wanted to share the joy and confidence that he found in tango. The timing was poor, with Korea entering a deep recession. "Who cares about tango when you have to put food on the table?" Mr. Kong asks. He returned to Argentina, but returned a few years later to promote the music, dance and culture.

Today he commutes regularly between Korea and Argentina, where his wife and children still live. Each time he returned to Korea, he performs or hosts workshops.

In September, he opened a tango school in Yeoksam-dong. "Tango is also a way for Koreans to get to know another culture," he says. 'You don't need words, and you can dance with just about anybody."

"Homage to Piazzolla," featuring Korea's top tango dancers, Kong Myung-kyu, Ahn Sung-soo, Baik Young-tae and Lee Eun-hee, will be staged at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at Ho-Am Art Hall. The dancers will perform ballet, contemporary and tango. For more information, call (02) 751-9999.

by Inēs Cho, Joe Yong-hee

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