Tangomania is back and with good reason. The tango is not just a dance, not just a form of music. The tango is a visual and aural manifesto of the people's century. The rebelliousness and barely contained anarchy suggested by the tango has made it exceedingly popular around the world. A growing number of Chinese teens are abandoning traditional martial arts in favor of tango steps. And oddly enough, tango has long been considered the national dance of Finland. However, as well-loved and internationally embraced as tango is, it is first and last an Argentinean art form. The Richmond Symphony presents a special program of tango music this weekend, in large part due to the cultural heritage of its associate conductor, Gerardo Edelstein. Raised in Argentina by European émigrés, Edelstein is particularly qualified to lead a concert of Argentina's chief cultural export to the world.
Edelstein became convinced that a tango concert would go over well here after hearing an album of tango music being played at a party held in Richmond. "A lot of people are showing a lot of interest lately in that type of music," he says. "It will be interesting to hear the reaction ..." of the Richmond community, he adds.
Producing the concert was not a paint-by-numbers affair. "The main problem when you do this type of concert is to find music for orchestra," Edelstein says, as tango music is generally written for small ensembles.
Especially integral to authentic tango is the participation of a bandoneon player. The accordionlike instrument imbues tango with its immediately recognizable sonority. "The sound is very peculiar," Edelstein notes. "It is an instrument that is basically used in tango only." This makes finding a bandoneonist particularly challenging. Edelstein procured the services of Raul Jaurena, who will also contribute orchestral arrangements. Jaurena's wife, Marga Mitchell, will lend her vocal talents to the event. Edelstein has also enlisted two local dancers, Ana Ines King of the Latin American Ballet of Virginia and Pedro Szalay of Richmond Ballet, to act out the tempestuous couplings familiar to tango fans.
In the 1980s, Broadway's "Tango Argentino" renewed worldwide interest in the tango. After a scandalous birth in the brothels and bars of Argentina, the tango is now understood as an important 20th-century artifact. But even as it is presented in concert halls, inspected by academicians, and taught to young dancers and musicians with the utmost attention to correct form and phrasing, there is something loose, feral and uncontrollable about the tango. An early 20th-century London minister watching in horror at young men and women rubbing up against each other said, "It is not what happens at a tango ... that so much matters as what happens after it."
The metaphorical content of the dance is not exclusively sensual. Tango has been called "the dance that declares our century." It could only have evolved under the unique happenstance of our times, reminding us of the collision of African, European and New World populations, a worldwide depression, women's sexual and political liberation, and popular revolt against tyranny. "I'm not planning to do a history of the tango [in all its incarnations]," Edelstein says, "that would take several concerts." But he does want to present tango as it has been interpreted by singers, dancers, and even American