story by Christine Lawson for

Bejart's La Cumparsita - Is this really a Tango?

Argentine tango has changed remarkably little since it emerged as a distinct musical genre and dance form at the end of the 19th century. Generations of dancers, musicians, and composers have been drawn to the timelessness of tangos moody emotion and dynamic intensity  stemming from the poor, dark barrios of Argentina and Uruguay. The tradition continues to thrive today, attracting thousands of new enthusiasts each year in cities, universities, and artistic communities throughout the world.

Like any vibrant art form, though, tango has periodically been interpreted in new ways. A wonderful example of this can be found in the work of the late Maurice Bejart, a world-renowned French choreographer famous for his flamboyant style and celebration of both emotional intensity and comic absurdity.

Consider Bejart's La Cumparsita, part of a larger work created in 1990, Mozart Tango, in which the choreographer combines some of the zanier aspects of Mozart's oeuvre with Argentine tango. Relying on classical-modern dance vocabulary, Bejart masterfully captures essential elements of the Argentine tango in innovative ways. This is clearly apparent in this choreography, a passionate 'pas de deux' between two men. The work is set to music by the Uruguayan musician, Gerard Matos Rodriguez.

traditional tango close embrace

Throughout the dance, Bejart abandons the traditional tango embrace between the dancers, a powerful means of establishing tango's quintessential 'connection'. Instead, he explores other possibilities for connection, such as the sharp turning of one's head toward the other, a provocative glance, or direct eye contact  all of which are used extensively throughout the choreography. The first physical connection that occurs is the placing of one's hand upon the other's shoulder. It is a powerful gesture that propels the dance through an endless 'touch-and-go' exchange, mimicking the 'lead-and-follow' form that Argentine tango is built upon. Later, a hand-to-hand grasp becomes both a shared axis around which the dancers revolve and a point of reference where strength and will are measured.

tango open embrace

Confident with the ties that bind the two men, Bejart finally sets the dancers free to test the limits of connection. At times, they move in parallel, mirror one another, or in contrast to the other's movements but always maintaining a shared spatial energy.

The dance climaxes in a heated and dynamic open duet. As this flirtatious adventure nears its end, the dancers reconnect in an unexpected moment of intimate resolve  eye-to-eye, hand-to-face, perhaps an eventual embrace. Having invited the audience into this handsome dance, Bejart finally seems to humble himself to tradition, closing the dancers off into the intimacy of their own proximity.

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