February 14, 2020
Che Malambo captured the Joyce Theatre’s audience from the moment the cast of 12 dancers appeared through the dark stage against a bright backlight with a crescendo of zapateo - Argentinean rhythmic footwork - culminating in a roaring shout. Choreographed and staged with rampant showbiz and savoir-faire, Gilles Brinas catered an array of traditional Argentinean dances set in an austere contemporary framework. For the entire performance, the dancers wore a single outfit compose of neutral black sleeveless shirts, plain black pants and Malambo boots.
The evening started with a variation of the widely known Malambo Norteño, characterized by its brisk zapateo characterized by fast shuffles, hip twists, inverted leg whips, kicks, heel scuffs, toe accents, all embellished by its steady elegantly proud stance. A vibrant feast of bombo legueros followed with the cast showcasing their drumming mastery.
Commendable was the soloist that introduced Malambo sureño, still in the black plain shirt and pants, but barefooted, accompanying himself playing with his guitar the pampeño showcasing chords that gradually grow from lethargic cadences to prestissimo tempi. The mood shifted as the leading drummer sang a ballad, introducing a Chacarera, a festive folk dance which is traditionally danced by partners drawing geometrical shape floor patterns within courtship sequences.
The evening’s climax built through a series of acts displaying whirling boleadoras (interconnected cords with round weights on the ends) that decorated the stage with the reflection of their patters effectively embellished by Mr. Brinas’ lighting design. After closing with a comedic improv number and the corresponding bows, the company shared a well-received encore inviting the audience to clap the Malabo rhythm.
Post-performance comments were positive. Argentinean tango artists were very vocal expressing their appreciation of the virtuosic work Che Malambo. The only regrets shared by connoisseurs was Brinas’ choice of maintaining an abstract aesthetic, thus abstaining from including traditional attire.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gabriela Estrada