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The Story Behind “Forever Tango”

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.

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A celebration of raw emotional intensity and authenticity

While the story elements of Forever Tango are almost nonexistent, there are some story elements in between the dance sequences. We’re treated to a lot of passionate displays among the dancers, some flashes of anger, and even a little bit of gun play. Still, the overarching point of this production is the tango. Personally, I don’t think they need to dress the dance sequences with a storyline or acting.

They could have easily just gone completely with an all-tango production and the show’s fans probably would not mind. Why? The dance IS the acting. The dance IS the story. Trying to layer too many story elements on a show that is intrinsically all about the tango and an exploration of its depth, richness, and substance would be to cheapen it. Far from enriching Forever Tango, too much story element additions and tinkering might end up chocking the parts this production gets right.

Considering the many ways musicals and plays fail, it is really hard to understand why critics would dismiss Forever Tango as a ‘one trick pony’ show that features a thinly-disguised tango exposition. It isn’t the tango that holds this production back. No, it is what saves it. People who see this show come for the tango and all the mystery, intensity, immediacy, and palpable sensuality that tango brings to a room-any room-from Buenos Aires Argentina to Bangor Maine and beyond.

Whether you’re going in earnest or with a bit of mystery, if you are looking for an unabashed celebration of the Argentine national dance, you should check out a production of Forever Tango, you won’t walk away disappointed. Considering the rich history of class struggle, disappointed New World Dreams, and the aching of crafting a distinctly Argentine cultural identity in the shadow of colonial Spanish culture, tango, pure and uncut, doesn’t need a story line-it only needs to express itself unabashedly.

Thankfully, Forever Tango does exactly that.

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The Mystique of the Tango

There is no overarching story or narrative uniting Forever Tango. Instead, the production opens with an orchestra playing classical Argentine tango music. The rest of the production involves couples dancing the tango. Different couples, different music. There’s no mistaking it, Forever Tango was, is, and will always be about tango. It’s as pure of a tango ‘musical’ you will ever get. While ‘Evita’ had a lot of story going for it, Forever Tango is unapologetic ally all about tango, its appeal, its intensity, and its almost fathomless awesomeness. And there‚Äôs nothing wrong with that.

Let’s face it, the theatrical play production is a brutal business. For every ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ there are countless all-too-forgettable one-show wonders. Indeed, if you want to reach back and dig deep enough, the ratio between plays that got produced but didn’t launch, plays that got produced and flopped shortly after launch, and plays that failed to make money is almost inestimable. That’s how bad the ratio is.

Still, in pursuit of that theatrical dream that just won’t die, plays get produced one after the other-and fail one after the other-yielding the occasional classic. This is the background, Forever Tango should be viewed against. While its critics (including the folks over at NCA) may crow that Forever Tango was only on Broadway for a year before fizzling out, they are engaging in willful blindness-Forever Tango has never really died since it first debuted in San Francisco in 1994.

After its SF run, it ran on Broadway for a year and, instead of retreating into its past viewer’s memories, it went on to find it second wind by going international. Forever Tango has never looked back since. All told, it has seen productions in Europe, Asia, and North America. From the looks of it, this tango play shows no signs of slowing down. What is its secret? Why does it continue to enjoy success when so many other plays are morosely gathering dust in manuscript form in some cool, dark, dry place somewhere?

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Forever Tango, A Backstory

Ahh, the tango.

No dance seems more intimate, immediate, and palpable than the tango. As you move and wrap your legs to the side of and around your partner, the intricate pacing and emotional immediacy of your chemistry as a couple transforms from a mere dance to a public celebration or spectacle. The tango is at once highly personal and extremely public.

It is one of the very few dances that reeks of emotional intensity played out in well-measured, synchronized, and choreographed moves. In a way, it is the Argentine dancing version of American jazz-improvised, emotionally authentic, sincere, intense, and oh-so public. Considering how arresting the tango is as both a dance and a vehicle for public artistic expression, it is no surprise that there is a play, Forever Tango, that tries to capture the tango’s appeal.

Not surprisingly, despite since its launch in 1994, the theater-going interest in this highly sensuous Argentine dance, and the play it inspired, the play has refused to die. Call it tango fever or whatever you want, there is something about Forever Tango that has endeared it to the many theater fans that have seen its many productions ever since it debuted in 1994.