GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Ella es tango (She Is Tango) is the tale of two centuries of music, dance, and female liberation from the origins of Tango as a macho form of entertainment, for the patrons of the brothels of Buenos Aires ports in the 18th century, to the Tango Nuevo influences that legitimized the art and took it to the grand stages of New York and the European capitals of Paris and Sweden in the 20th century.
The disarming impact of Ella es tango is that you are drawn in by the elegant sensuality of the partners’ dance, then surrounded by dramatic songs and infectious sound that soon make you realize that you are enjoying a musical revue!
The experience of hearing live music again is priceless.
But it is the stylish mastery of partners Rosalia Gasso and lead choreographer Alejandro Barrientos and the almost mirror matching imagery of Florence Borgnia and Marcos Pereira that burn the indelible imagery of style and flash. Their legs intertwine in an artful exhibition of the range of Argentine milonga styles from the more rustic rhythmic walking style that originated with family gatherings and expressed the joy and humor of neighborhood gatherings to the faster movements with fewer pauses of street performers during the Peron era, to the more dramatic and serious concert style of Tango.
The dancers made more wardrobe changes than Diana Ross and the Motown Review at the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas and were matched by the elegant beauty of singers Mariana Quinteros and Patricia Torres.
From a touching “Morena / Dark Girl” tribute to the genre’s Afro-Argentine influences, to the closing flourish of feminine power in “Yo soy Maria / Maria of Buenos Aires” in red-sequined glory, Mariana and Patricia unabashedly express their full feminine glory. The full 11-member cast of Ella es tango sears an unforgettable mosaic of music and dance that fills every corner of the vintage GALA Hispanic Theatre stage.
The GALA cast featured company members Lorena Sabogal (Libertad Lamarque), who last appeared in En el tiempo de las mariposas, and Krystal Pou (Camila), last seen in Dancing in My Cockroach Killers.
Adding a dramatic sainete storytelling fabric to Ella es tango are Patricia Suárez (Tita Merello), Cecilia Esquivel (Azucena Maizani), and Claudio Aprile (various men’s roles). Making their debut at GALA, they sing of their mistreatment at the hands of macho directors when their young careers as dancers, actors, and singers were minimized.
“In an originally male-dominated genre such as tango, women moved slowly into the field by singing tangos with inuendo or double meaning,” states GALA’s producing artistic director Hugh Medrano. “They hid their femininity, dressing up like men.”
Medrano conceived and directed this world premiere after having to pause for over a year due to the pandemic and limitations on international travel. Eventually this international cast flew to Washington from Buenos Aires, Madrid, Miami, and Las Vegas.
With a four-piece band behind a mystical veil, the first act’s story of the “Old Guard,” or “La Vieja Guardia,” has almost a dozen songs sprinkled with an occasional sainete, a touching one-act vignette that fills the audience in on the cultural context of Tango.
The most telling dialogue, “Camila for Export,” is between a father, raised in the traditional tango that originated in the jails and whorehouses a hundred years ago, and his daughter, a modern dancer he chastises for falling under the allure of street life by auditioning at open mic nights.
“Tango is macho,” says the father. His defiant daughter turns her back on his advice and retorts, “Tango es elle,” as she follows her modern daydreams of appearing on the stages of New York and Paris.
The two live musicians from the Pan American Symphony Orchestra are experienced soloist, chamber, and orchestral musician John Philligin on the violin, and former member of the U.S. Army Band Pete Ostle on bass. They are joined by 2018 Latin Grammy award-winning bandoneón player Rodolfo Zanetti, all led by Ariel Pirotti the conductor and pianist, a 2017 Latin Grammy nominee and a tango music teacher.
I ask you, when was the last time you heard a melancholy accordion solo that makes you want to break out your Liberace wardrobe?
Ella es tango explores the overlooked contributions of talented, strong, and witty female artists who both composed and sang unforgettable songs in different vocal ranges and used body language techniques that revolutionized the way tango had been traditionally displayed. Their innovations contributed to the explosion of tango during its golden years and opened the doors for future female powerhouses in the “Tango Nueva” modern era.
Running Time: About two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Ella es tango runs live June 2 through June 20, 2021, at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Ella es tango is performed in Spanish with English surtitles Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. GALA is opening up its stage for a limited number of couples to dance milongas after the show on Wednesdays.
Reservations are necessary through June 10, as only 66 patrons will be seated. Starting June 11, GALA will begin to operate at full capacity and reservations are highly encouraged. The wearing of masks is required throughout the run. Single tickets are $45. Noche de GALA are $50 each. Senior (65+), student, and military tickets are $30. Groups (10+) are $30. To purchase tickets, call 202-234-7174 or visit galatheatre.org. Tickets are also available on Goldstar and TodayTix.
GALA has four wheelchair-accessible spaces and an elevator to transport people from the entrance to the lobby, and to the house. Parking is available at a discounted rate in the Giant garage on Park Road, NW. Additional parking is available at the Target garage also on Park Road, between 14th and 16th Streets.