Wow! It’s Montag in Dusseldorf and we are recovering from an intense TangoCamp experience. We were fortunate to take several classes with Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne over the long weekend and to see them perform four astonishing tangos on Saturday night. For all of you advanced dancers, they will be in the US in July, and I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity if you can. They travel very rarely nowadays, especially stateside. Gustavo is considered the father of tango nuevo for his ability to articulate and apply tango structure. His dissection of the gravevine turn provides a map for tango improvisation, and this comes through very clearly in his teaching.
But even more interesting than Gustavo’s classes, was the juxtaposition of his work with that of the younger couples who were clearly influenced by him, yet at the same time have a very distinct way of conceptualizing tango movement. We spent several hours over the course of the weekend discussing this new style and unfortunately we still don’t completely understand it. One characteristic is the addition of up/down and out/in directions to the matrix of tango. Another is the modification of tango posture into a more natural, anatomically efficient way of moving the body. We’ll be working with this last item specifically during the Tango Makeover Weekend in August. In any case, further investigation is necessary, and we’ll hopefully show you some of what we’ve learned when we return to DC.
We arrived in Dusseldorf for another dose of domestic therapy. A week early for the famed Tango Camp of Europe, Jost welcomed us into his home and we shared several home cooked meals together. The Tango Camp itself is a traveling circus of five top Argentine tango couples traveling together to four cities in four weeks. In this year’s lineup we are excited to see the infamous Gustavo/Giselle Anne, the new and exciting partnership of Ezequiel/Eugenia, and the phenomenal Pablo/Dana, who are not yet known in Europe but who we were completely amazed by in Berlin a month ago. For this event I will serve as one of the DJs, but with some luck we’ll be able to take some classes as well and be students again for a little while…
But before the festivities begin, we have the chance to relax in Dusseldorf a bit, and one of the most interesting (and strange) things we saw was a performance of climbers, contact dancers, and arial dancers dangling on ropes from a massive and monstrous old coal mining structure. Apparently there are over 200 of these remaining all along the Rhine river. I must admit that the building itself, lit up at night like some mechanical alien, was far more compelling than the performance itself. Its towers, pipes, and open metal staircases glowed in luminous green, yellow and orange as if from some futuristic power source.
A few days later we went to visit another one of these structures during the day. Much larger, this one had been converted to a public park, and we wandered around for a couple of hours. The beast-like metal shells, grids, pipes, and matrixes seemed like some massive animal rusted into a statuesque monument of its former self.
On Saturday, we went to see a hip hop performance at the Tanzhous, a beautiful complex for all kinds of dance imaginable, where I performed with TangoMujer two years earlier. The show was excellent, and one of the most intriguing things about it was the difference in style amongst the six dancers. Knowing very little about hip hop dance, this was a real education and added a lot of personality to the choreography. One dancer could pop every joint in her body separately. Another one moved much less but could perform amazing feats such as spinning on his head or on one hand for several minutes. Another could move through hundreds of different poses at lightening speed, and others somehow incorporated flowing movements and flamenco-like postures into hip hop, which are elements I did not expect.
Ironically, having a long-ish break between workshops has made me feel more homesick, perhaps simply because I have more time lately to consider where I am and what I am doing (or not doing!). In an effort to lighten my mood, Isaac suggested we locate an English screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and in retrospect it was exactly what I needed. Fun, entertaining, and a complete escape from reality!
Then, on to the Netherlands capital of Amsterdam, which has long been a favorite city of mine. The system of concentric canals lined with tall narrow row houses is the very definition of charming. Add to this a matrix of tiny bridges and the soft clink of bicycles going by, and suddenly it makes sense why everyone who lives here is in such a good mood all the time. And as if to add to the cozy feeling of Amsterdam, we kept noticing cats everywhere. Not your usual wandering stray city cat, but happy, sleepy cats kept as pets in cafes, bars, even some stores. As a cat lover, I was happy to see these silent, calm little guardian angels everywhere, perhaps simply as companions, perhaps to chase away the mice. We can only guess.
On our first walk around the city we were halted at the edge of one of the larger bridges by ringing bells and lowering of red and white striped bars like the ones at railway crossings. These, however, signaled the opening of the bridge for boats to pass through the canal. We were amazed to witness this pause in the flow of city life. As if holding a long breath, everything was totally quiet for about 30 seconds as the bridge opened on its powerful metal hinge and the boats passed through. Drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and small dogs watched in silence. A few pigeons sat quietly on the underside of the bridge and blinked back at us. As the massive piece of road settled back into place and the bars lifted, everyone took off all at once, as if back into a sprint, and the sounds of the city resumed as before. The second time we watched this happen, we noticed three white graffiti figures drawn on the center of the bridge. They’re not so noticeable when the bridge is down and cars are driving over it, but as it makes its massive, slow ascent, we noticed that one of the figures appeared to be hanging from the top ledge of the bridge, and the other two sliding down it!!!
That night, Koos and Slavica took us to a fantastic Spanish tapas restaurant where we ate the best grilled squid since Cyprus, and then on to one of the strangest milongas I’ve ever seen. I rode on the back of Koos’ bike to get there, and he shouted back that we were going “to the end of the city.” There we found a community of artists “squatting” an old industrial building. They had converted a portion of it to housing and erected in the center a large white dome. We walked along a long red carpet to the entrance, and inside noticed several lengths of green, purple, and yellow silk were hung from the topmost bars, along with a trapeze. Originally intended to host a small circus show on the weekends, this bizarre construction becomes the “Tangosphera” on Thursday nights.
Saturday night we headed over to the Jordaan, an old neighborhood with lots of cozy Dutch cafe restaurants the size of an average living room, and nearly always with spare wooden tables and lots of candles. We ate a delicious if simple oven-baked goat cheese with thyme-flavored honey, and then “kip sate (chicken skewers with thick sweet and spicy peanut sauce),” which despite its Indonesian origins may as well be the national dish of Holland. It seems to be ubiquitous in Dutch cafes.
Finally, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a long leisurely walk through the Vondelpark, magical land of hidden pathways and calming pools of water. Surrounded by tall trees and clusters of tulips and lilies, we felt very lucky to get a sunny, 80-degree afternoon for our walk, which marked perhaps the second or third day in about three months that I left the house without my red leather jacket.
Happily, we’ve both started to feel much more synchronized in the classroom over the past month or so, and we felt very happy with the Amsterdam workshops. We shared a really nice dinner afterward with a couple from Eindhoven who took the train up for the weekend, and still later, after the milonga, we celebrated at home with Rene and Gabrielle and some new friends. After a couple of glasses of wine one of these new friends revealed a CD on which he had recorded just 24 hours before his own tango composition. After half a dozen disclaimers and apologies, he agreed to play it for us! As the trip is nearing its end, I am starting to crave some domestic balance, my own forks and spoons, blankets and pillows, etc., and these personal encounters help to compensate. 🙂