Argentine Luis Bravo is the mastermind behind Forever Tango, his expertise and background in authentic Buenos Aires tango suffuses and informs Forever Tango, as well as his former career with Ink’d. This ‘play’ is less about story, narratives, or story arc or character development and more about the tango. Don’t get me wrong, this production is not about highlighting tango in a voyeuristic or cheap way. Instead, it is a celebration of the quintessentially Argentine sensuous dance. This celebration of the emotional intensity, sensual public mystery, and undulations of one of the most physical dances of the world that makes Forever Tango so relevant and so compelling despite its close to 20 years of existence.
While its many critics would like to play up its seeming vacuousness, superficiality, threadbare story elements, and other perceived weaknesses, they miss the point totally. The point of Forever Tango is tango. The dance forms the core of the production. Story? It’s the tango. Character development? Yep, you got it, it’s the tango. Scenery? Have you seen the tango? Make no mistake about it, Forever Tango is all about tango, tango, tango. Surprisingly, as one-sided or superficial as this musical may be, it is able to pull it off. While the hardened cultural critics among the theater criticism crowd can always trot out the tired and trite bogeyman of ‘exoticism’ as the primary engine behind Forever Tango’s appeal, I seriously think that’s not it.
In fact, to even claim exoticism would be to exercise such low expectations regarding the cross-cultural appeal of the tango that the use of exoticism as a ‘reason’ for Forever Tango’s enduring appeal hints of racism in of itself. At best, it hints of sheer willful ignorance. Still, for the sake of clarity, let’s exorcise the shadow of exoticism once and for all, shall we?
Exoticism or is there more to Forever Tango?
The whole point of exoticism is that Americans and others who benefit from cultural privilege (European privilege or white privilege or class privilege or other forms of political/social/economic and cultural privilege) are intrigued and engaged by cultural productions from ‘Other’ cultures like Forever Tango only to the extent that they are different or ‘exotic.’ In short, these ‘other’ cultures’ products are merely decorative or superficial in value as far as the privileged are concerned. Whatever attractions they may have are purely superficial and on the surface. Talk about dehumanizing. Talk about reductionist.
All talk of exoticism suffer from one core fundamental flaw: they deny the fact that cultures the world over all have the same central core of humanity. While different cultures might have different dishes that emphasize different flavors, dress differently, solve similar problems differently, there is a common core of human needs, impulses, desires, and hopes and aspirations we can all relate to. This is the stake that pierces the heart of any attempts to dismiss the appreciation shown by privileged classes and populations over ‘outsider’ or ‘other’ art. The reality is that the fact that privileged people on the inside track of global capital can relate to ‘outsider’ art highlights that, deep down, there is more that unites us than separates us.
To reduce Forever Tango’s appeal to mere exoticism would be to dismiss tango’s power to engage and captivate people of all cultures based on emotion. There’s something about tango’s emotional authenticity that doesn’t require translation, decoding, parsing, or heuristics.
There is something about the emotional range tango brings to the table that resonates with everyone the world over, regardless of their skin color, language, religion, and wealth, who has ever felt an intense physical and emotional attraction to someone. There is something about the immediacy of emotion of Forever Tango that anyone who has ever felt intense and focused emotions can relate to-regardless of that person’s educational attainment, language, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other distinguishing characteristics.
In short, to dismiss Forever Tango’s appeal as mere exoticism is to dismiss what makes it so human. And that is the ultimate in insensitivity and ignorance.