TEEN AMBASSADOR:HANNAH POWERS | MARCH 30, 2017
Shows at the Zeiterion are always surprising me. I never know what to expect, and there has yet to be an experience where I’ve gone to the Z and been let down. For “Che Malambo”, I went in knowing nothing except that it was a dance performance. My brain immediately went to young women in frilly outfits, prancing around stage to sleepy, operatic music, but that couldn’t be farther from what I got.
Before I go into my personal thoughts on the performance, I’d like to give a little bit of background information. I got the privilege to listen in on a Q&A with the directors of the dance troupe, and I learned a lot of background that really enriched the whole experience for me. First of all, in case you were wondering, Malambo is a dance style originating from Argentina. Traditionally, Malambo is performed by one or two male dancers wearing tall shoes and wielding bolas (hard acrylic balls attached to nylon straps). The tall shoes are used for percussive dancing, and the bolas are struck against the floor to add to the beat.
In the production that I attended, however, the classic version of Malambo had been tampered with a bit. Gilles Brinas, the man who masterminded the performance, had seen a traditional Malambo show and had found within himself a passion to make it into something new. He took the one-man tradition and made Malambo into a group dance, something bright and original. At first, orthodox Malambo dancers were resistant to Brinas’s shining vision, but they came around and agreed to help him bring his dream to our plane of reality when they saw his fire.
“Our work…” said Brinas, “is for all.”
The group, I learned at the Q&A, has been together for 10 years. Some dancers are newer, and some have been there since the beginning. Many have jobs outside of Che Malambo, and don’t participate in every tour, due to the intensity of the schedule – this tour, they intend to visit 25 cities in the United States over the course of 5 weeks! The ages of the performers range from 18 to 42, and they are all men from different parts of Argentina.
Now that you have all the information that I had going in, allow me to set the stage (and please pardon the awful pun). This show had no sets. There were no elaborate costumes. The presentation was dark and simple. Everything happening on the stage centered on the music, and the energy of the dancers. Everything happening on the stage helped to highlight the immense talent of the artists. I don’t want to ruin any surprises for you in case you decide to see the show for yourself, but I was awestruck. As someone who has a fairly difficult time with coordination, seeing the things that they could do was astounding to me. Never before had I felt so unqualified to be a brain piloting a body. They balanced dancing, foot percussion with their tall shoes, bola twirling, and a little bit of acting all at the same time. The way they danced, sometimes synchronized and sometimes in organized chaos, they became a tornado of knees, elbows, beat, feeling. I am told that my mouth was open throughout the entirety of Act II.
The rhythm was intense. I remember being able to feel my heartbeat shift a little bit to sync up with it. And the lighting… wow. Everything about the lighting offset the mood of the moment, the best traits of the dancers, and the tempo of the music. My favorite part, though, was when the bolas were added to the mix. Because of the lighting, and perhaps some kind of paint on the bola itself, the instrument (is it an instrument? A prop?) seemed to glow. When the dancers whirled these things around, they appeared to be controlling a rabid chain of fire, a blazing ferris wheel spinning much too fast. Another thing that took me by surprise was when they continued to stomp around on the hard stage, without their drum shoes. There is something fearfully powerful about the sound of a bare foot striking the floor with such purpose in a silent theatre. It made the hair on my arms stand up.
Another thing about this show – when I was in the Q&A, Mr. Brinas said, “Our work… is for all.” He explained that there was something for everyone in Che Malambo, from younger children to older adults. I didn’t really take his word for it, because I mean, surely he had a little bit of a bias, right? Aside from that, how could one production encompass all of that? I have never been so thrilled to be proven wrong. I know that it’s largely introduced as a dance performance, but Che Malambo included singing and guitar-playing as well. It actually caught me off guard a little bit, as I hadn’t been expecting to hear any vocals. The Spanish harmonies were moving, and a good change of pace to keep the audience on their toes. However, back to my point: there really is something in this show for everyone. The part of the performance that was rather quiet for me was the most touching part to my friend, sitting next to me.
I can say without any doubt that this is the best show I’ve ever seen at the Zeiterion. Something about it spoke to me on a deeper level than any other performance I’ve seen. Che Malambo is a revelation – one that everyone deserves to see.