Forever Tango

We dined last night in Barbetta, which is the oldest continually owned restaurant in New York, and one of our favorite Italian places in the City. We’ve been going there for 50 years (this is our 45th anniversary) but the restaurant has been open for 104!

There’s a pianist, an elegant room, and a garden. It was too humid for us outside, so we dined inside, with great service. It’s not everywhere you can get bagna cauda.

We then went over to Forever Tango, a limited run at the Walter Kerr with 16 incredible dancers and some star turns by Dancing with the Stars’ Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. They are backed by 11 on-stage musicians: pianist, keyboard, bass viol, cello, viola, two violins—and four guys (all older than I am) playing bandoneons. These are concertina-like diaphragms, common in tango music, which require both hands to be playing chords while expanding and contracting the thing. They produce incredible sounds.

The tango, of course, is rivaled only by the paso doble in its drama, the latter expressing intensity with a bull and the former with your partner. Professionals dancing the tango usually feature a man looking hostile and a woman looking bored or mildly uncomfortable, ranging from an upset stomach to borborygmic. No one ever smiles and there seems to be mayhem on the mind. The men, with slicked back hair and smirks, remind me of a combination of Bobby Darren and Al Capone.

The women exhibit amazing footwork in heels higher than most women could comfortably walk down the street in. The dance requires precision movements and a lot of leg in obligatory fishnets. This is not so much a dance as a mating ritual, a fast trip around third base heading home.

It was an astonishing night, with the dancers given respite by some amazing musical numbers and the singer Luis Enrique, who has a wonderful voice, singing fabulous Spanish songs. Karina and Max were larger than life. At every appearance the audience roared and were rewarded with an aggressive grace, a wondrous chemistry.

Every so often, Max and Karina can’t help themselves, and they smile, dropping the act of aloofness and simply accepting the joy. I can’t blame them. I was smiling myself for the entire performance. It’s a limited run, so if you at all have the chance, go see it.

© Alan Weiss 2013


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