Tango Mastermind Polly Ferman’s Global Festival Hits a Crescendo on the Upper East Side
Last night’s music and dance extravaganza at the 92nd Street Y, the centerpiece of the Shall We Tango festival – a celebration of global tango and tango-influenced sounds – started at 8, and there was still a floor full of dancers by the time the final band wrapped up at half past eleven. Organizer/pianist Polly Ferman created her own Histoire du Tango (to steal a title from the Astor Piazzolla book, richly and eclectically represented here), and this was a sweeping survey of every kind of tango. Tango as gangster music, boudoir music, serious concert music, ballet soundtrack, as part of the jazz spectrum, the classical repertoire and, arguably, the root source of all things noir: this show had it all.
There was graceful and often spectacular dancing by pairs assembled by the festival’s dance director, Karina Romero. Sometimes simply graceful, often sensationally athletic, the dancers showed off moves that would have been at home on an Olympic ice rink. Are the Olympians stealing those spirals, upside-down catch-and-release tactics and slinky motives from the tango world, or vice versa?
Ferman, a brilliant, witty, fiery performer and interpreter, played with a wicked precision and a cascading, volleying, relentless intensity in tandem with bandoneon legend Daniel Binelli, a frequent collaborator of hers. A little later, she brought out a quartet version of her all-female group GlamourTango, who celebrate women’s contributions to tango over the decades. The piano/bass/bandoneon/violin ensemble ranged from lively neoromanticism, to brassy swing behind a succession of singers, to balletesque themes and a little jazz, Ferman and her crew shifting through the idioms with effortless expertise. GlamourTango don’t seem to have any NYC gigs lined up, but lucky Milwaukeans can catch them at Latino Arts, 1028 S. 9th St. in Milwaukee on Dec 4 and 5; tix are $15/$10 stud/srs.
Bogota-based Quinteto Tango Leopoldo Federico – who take their name from the Argentine legend – aired out the Piazzolla songbook and other iconic material with a viscerally spine-tingling focus. Pianist Alberto Tamayo, violinist Miguel Angel Guevara, bassist Kike Harker, electric guitarist Francisco Avellaneda and bandoneonist Giovanni Parra stunned the crowd with a remarkably serious, moody, meticulous approach, Guevara taking the spotlight and making the most of it. The crowd gave them a standing ovation and wouldn’t let them leave without a couple of encores, the first of which sounded like a droll tango arrangement of the 1950s Big Bopper hit Chantilly Lace.
After a milonga which drew much of the audience out onto the floor to pair up while vintage, orchestrated 1950s sounds played over the PA, sizzling Venezuelan violinist Eddy Marcano and his seven-piece group leaped and bounded through a joyously animated set of folk-inspired jazz themes, bookending a darkly majestic take of Piazzolla’s iconic Libertango, anchored by the pianist’s haunting, hard-hitting, murky lefthand attack. The festival continues through Oct 15, with dance classes, milongas and a couple of shows at the Queens Theatre in the Park in Corona, across from where Shea Stadium used to be. The rest of the New York schedule of events is here.