Bigger in reputation than its size, Mendoza´s Independence theater (Teatro Independencia) seats 730, which gives the hall a cozy intimacy when the curtain lowers and the lights go out. The theater was built in the early 1920s, during a time when Mendoza downtown was just beginning to aquire a taste for the visual arts. Today the theater, located on the corner of Plaza Independencia in the heart of downtown, fills its stage with ballet, tango, theater, orchestras and artists from across Argentina and around the globe. And though the theater makes quite a buzz in the city, I´d never stepped foot through the front doors. That is, until "Tango Federal" had its opening night. The contemporary ballet, "Tango Federal" began on May 25th with a dance company composed of over 50 artists. It was an original production by the Theater, featuring award-winning pianist, arranger and composer Lito Vitale and choreography by Cristina Castro. I found my seat somewhere in the second balcony and on the stage below me, Vitale and Castro created a world in which tango technique stepped in time with contemporary choreography. Each dance, in quick succession, created a dialogue – where past and present tango pushed and pulled each other, two steps forward into the modern and one step back into traditional tango. As the dances rotated between styles, incorporating group choreography and featuring soloists, I stared down at the smoky stage trying to connect the dots. The modern tango was easy to identify in both the costumes and choreography. Cristina Castro played with props and dramatic intensity, at one point lowering a chair from the ceiling as the solo dancer raged across the stage in a cloud of red light and gray smoke.
As my eyes trailed the step-step-slide, step-slides of the dancers below me, I stopped watching their movements. I stopped admiring the flowing skirts and fedoras, and though I saw their bustle on stage, all I felt was the music. Lito Vitale’s music was performed by a handful of Mendoza’s musicians, forming a small orchestra of flute, violin, clarinet, cello, bass and drums. Truly excellent tango music: sweet pulsing strings that turn from one tempo to another, tugging on the feet of the dancers like puppeteers with every note. An hour later, the balcony lights began to glow, and the audience filled the quiet air with applause. I was happily clapping too, in my confused contemplation. What exactly was happening with the chair? In the end, the music did more to win us over than what was happening on the stage. It was the atmosphere and mood that I loved, even if the story was perhaps a little…lost in translation. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Madeline Blasberg is a travel and wine journalist living in Mendoza. Old theaters remind her of the phantom of the opera and - in the right company - she is not afraid to break into song and star in a one-woman musical reenactment.