I first saw Forever Tango last summer in Spoleto in a Roman amphitheater as the bright summer afternoon inched into blossom-scented night. Except for my discomfited bottom, everything felt like a great, enveloping enchantment. I realize now that the setting was a large part of the magic. Indoors at the Walter Kerr Theater, the company is still that of Luis Bravo, but I feel less inclined to shout, “Bravo, Luis!”
The tango is a wonderful thing, but only a genius could squeeze an evening’s worth of sufficiently varied entertainment out of it. The way the jackknifing legs of the dancers zoom between or alongside each other’s thighs—or even over the partner’s head—is fascinating, especially because the torsos tend to stay sexily and imperturbably close together. The faces express almost painful concentration, as if the dancers are at the very least planning to overthrow the government if not actually grappling with higher mathematics. When the tango was first demonstrated in Paris in the early thirties, President Doumer commented, “Very nice, but in France we do it horizontally.”
Even if you’ve never undergone a tango evening, unless bandoneon music gets you where you live, and a stocky but soulful male singer’s warbling hits you like boleadoras, you may feel surfeited well before show’s end. The eleven-piece band knocks out better and poorer tangos with equal acumen, and all the dancers are expert, replete with duende. A couple of the women are also alluring, but all the men seem to me vintage graduates of Argentine productions of Grease. Nothing here shines more dazzlingly that the performers’ hair, polished to perfection and making clear, what is meant by art holding up the mirror to nature.