Review Tango Moderno, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

You know when you’ve been Tango’d*

Of all the countless dance shows produced by Strictly pros over the years, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace’s are by far the finest I’ve seen (and I’ve seen quite a few). I even reviewed Natalie Lowe, Jay McGuinness and Louis Smith’s superb 50s spectacular Rip it Up for Get the Chance last year (which you can find here). However, what little the latter show lacked, Tango Moderno possessed in spades.

Vincent and Flavia’s dancefloor magic has captivated Strictly audiences for years, but where they truly shine is incorporating stories through which the dancing is rendered not only enjoyable, but also emotionally rewarding. Ultimately, it’s the evolving and varied stories of the shows – interwoven with the incomparable dancing – which make them stand out, and they never tell the same story twice. This time around, the dance spectacular is framed as a sort of Greek drama, with Tom Parsons’ charismatic narrator acting as Chorus and chanteur as he doles out gems of romantic wisdom like a Shakespearean slam poet. The Shakespearean elements don’t end there – Vincent and Flavia portray ethereal love gurus; supernatural muses who play cupid to the lonely hearts of the modern era, much as Puck meddles with the hearts of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As the title suggests, the tango in its literal and abstract form is brought into the modern era, juxtaposing the classic with the contemporary, the magic with the mundane. In that way, it makes dance feel accessible even to us mere mortals, even as Vincent, Flavia and co. transcend the bounds of your traditional dance show with bold staging, relatable concepts and beautifully innovative ways of conveying emotional truths through music and movement.

The modern setting started out as intriguing and grew more effective and affecting as the drama and dancing played out; not only is it  beautifully choreographed and lovingly crafted, it also has a lot to say about modern life and specifically modern love, even featuring a sequence entitled the Blah Blah Blah Cha Cha Cha in which modern lovers embrace whilst still being attached to their iPhones (other brands are available), as well as an incredibly amusing online dating number in which the crazy people you swipe left on Tinder were hilariously recreated by the dancers posing inside a massive phone screen prop.

Vincent and Flavia’s unparalleled talents have been better expressed by more eloquent and informed people than me over the years, so what can I add that hasn’t already been said? Only that I’m deeply grateful that Vincent and Flavia continue to grace us with their time, skill and generosity year after year. I was surprised to see them take somewhat of a backseat in their own show, but found it to be an innovative and welcome choice in showcasing the talents of their wonderful co-stars, as much as demonstrating their own transcendent talents.

Every single dancer was sublime, and every number was a winner, but I have to shout out specifically to George Hodson and Mary Lynn Tiep whose dancing – both individually and as a partnership – was by far my favourite in the show; their dance ability, comedic timing and chemistry shone even among an already superb cast. They led one of the outstanding numbers of the night in which Vincent and Flavia’s cupids inspired their bickering couple to get back together and reconcile in let’s say a rather energetic way. Other standouts in the ensemble include Simon Campbell as a lovelorn millennial mourning his lonely nights to the tune of Luther Vandross’ ‘A House is Not a Home’, and Bryony Whitfield and Tom Woollaston who made for a sweet couple as well as sensational solo artists.

I was consistently impressed by the fluidity and ease in which each dance number flowed into the next. Adding to this was the idea of recurring characters – the eight ensemble dancers, despite playing multiple roles, each formed four distinct recurring would-be couples in matching outfits of distinctive shades who appeared regularly in between the group numbers. The presence of a narrative through-line, and recurring characters, really helps to elevate the dancing and give it an emotional impact as well as a visual spectacle.

There are too many incredible sequences to describe, but here are a few highlights. One of the most beautiful segments of the night was an affecting number set to Lukas Graham’s ‘7 Years’, in which the male dancers really captured the melancholy journey from youth to maturity. One of the funniest group dances was a combative Spring Cleaning-off, in which the dancers fought mundane battles in the domestic setting with lawnmowers and wheelbarrows for chariots and kitchen implements for weapons; a laddish soft-shoe to Bruno Mars’ ‘Lazy Song’, and a haunting, spiky Argentine to Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s ‘Human’. There was also a spotlight for violinist extraordinaire Oliver Lewis whose rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee was so exciting and energetic a rendition that it left the audience simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. The live band were utterly amazing and gave a vibrant backdrop to the onstage antics.

However I have to note one of the rare troubling aspects I have with mainstream dancing culture, and that’s that it remains deeply heteronormative. Vincent and Flavia’s classy cupids kept matchmaking a veritable conveyor belt of straight couple after straight couple; however, there was an admittedly brief, but very welcome openly queer moment near the end of the show in which two women shared a romantic kiss and decided to start a relationship with each other, much to the surprise and chagrin of their respective male exes. It’s a pretty big leap for the dance community, framed as it was as a celebratory, romantic moment for the two women in question (though it was played as comedic for their shocked exes). But as the only openly queer moment in the show, and a brief one at that, I found it to be comparable to Lefou’s much-discussed ‘explicitly gay moment’ in Disney’s 2017 live-action Beauty and the Beast; a moment which ended up as all-too brief, and though it might have been a huge step for the historically conservative Disney, was not the representation the LGBT community was promised, or the much-needed representation it deserved. However, I was grateful for its inclusion, and hope that it paves the way for more queer representation in the dance community.

Tango Moderno proves once again – if proof was needed – that Vincent and Flavia are unmissable, unbeatable and unforgettable even while affording every member of their tireless yet effortless cast and crew a moment to shine. And of course, the world champions graced us with their incomparable Argentine Tango skill with a truly breath-taking, heart-stopping finale the likes of which I’d never seen. This is truly a show that everyone can enjoy, and if you can make it, I promise you’ll be tango’ing all the way home.

 

*Sorry I couldn’t resist. Dance puns, I’ve got ‘em.