Imagine you're in a foreign city. You know no one, and it's late at night. Guided by the sound of live music, you duck into a bar and find yourself a lone pair of eyes in a room full of lovers and the best dancers you've ever seen. They don't even realize you're watching them as they play out their love affairs, frustrations and celebrations on the dance floor. This is Milonga.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the Sadler's Wells Company have given a contemporary twist to the Argentine tango style of milonga. With a cast of ten tango dancers from Buenos Aires and two contemporary dancers from Sadler's Wells, Milonga focuses on speaking without speaking and the intuitive physicality between tango partners.

Milonga: A Sadler's Wells London Production, Sydney Opera House
Milonga: A Sadler's Wells London Production, Sydney Opera House

There is a flow throughout Milonga that mimics a great night out. It starts off coolly with partners dancing together, doing their own thing in their own little worlds. As the band heats up so do the dancers and couples begin to intertwine on the floor. The beauty in this choreography is how seemingly-real it is. Just when you think you've noticed a pattern it has already dissolved.

There are odes to stereotypical Latin-American culture, and injections of conversation, mostly in Spanish, make you laugh at how recognizable it all is. As an audience you become comfortable and that's when Cherkaoui begs to infuse this milonga with his own personal zest. The six couples are soon joined by a whole crowd of onlookers in the form of cardboard cutouts projected on with images of all the different characters you might find in a tango bar. These, along with video clips of old dance halls, visual tours of colourful cities and spectacularly emotional lighting come together with the dancing and the music to create a complete environment to lose yourself in.

Each couple is given their moment alone, offering us a window into their intimacy. One pair is having a nasty argument, spitting insults left and right, and only through the connected movement of their bodies can they work out what the other is actually saying. Another couple has such a sense of unity that they move quicker than light, communicating through touch what direction they'll take next and making anyone envious of the completeness of their connection. A trio of men perform a macho, acrobatic number that opens so many possibilities beyond the classic heteronormative couple formula for social dancing. 

Milonga: A Sadler's Wells London Production, Sydney Opera House
Milonga: A Sadler's Wells London Production, Sydney Opera House

Tension is always building between the two contemporary dancers. Though they mesh wonderfully with the group, there is something definitely different about them. When the two finally have their moment alone, it is a powerfully sexual and sensuous affair that starts from tango and melts into something totally new. It's beautiful, it's hot and it's the kind of clear communicating that just can't be achieved with words alone. 

Milonga is where dance bridges the art world and our lived reality. Yes, it is staged, but it's coming from the very real struggle of our desire to connect with others through the noise that gets in the way. In the tango dancers' eternal embrace Cherkaoui has found a space where that noise can be eliminated and our bodies can speak freely. The incredible work that went into creating this piece is fully justified. Milonga is fiery and decadent and an absolute must-see.

*****