German Cornejo and his travelling collective have become a regular feature to warm up post-Christmas seasons at The Peacock Theatre. This year sees the return of the Tango Fire brand, which was last shown here exactly two years ago (and two years before that). That earlier iteration was sub-titled Flames of Desire, reflecting George Bernard Shaw’s memorable description of dancing (‘a vertical expression of a horizontal desire’). The strap line may have gone but heat and lust remain endemic throughout the 28 numbers. It had slimmed down to 26 in 2017, but the restoration of the additional pair proved that you can’t have too much of a good thing!

Tango Fire © Olivier Neubert
Tango Fire
© Olivier Neubert
The biggest change is the absence of a singer and I found myself missing the suave presence of Jesus Hidalgo and his renditions of the classic ballads, El Dia Que Me Quieras and Vuelvo al Sur. The former song (by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera) was performed as the first of four instrumental interludes showcasing the diverse talents of Cornejo’s regular band, Quarteto Fuego, led by Matias Feigin (a marvellous pianist) with Gemma Scalia (violin), Facundo Benavidez (double bass) and Clemente Carrascal, a maestro of the bandoneon (as crucial to Argentine tango as the guitar is to flamenco). The depth and variety of sound from this small but perfectly formed ensemble was tremendous entertainment on its own account.

The loss of a singer brought the compensation of an extra pair of dancers, adding substance and range to the group dances (all choreographed by Cornejo) and providing two additional featured duets (each of the six pairs had a dance of their own in both acts). No matter how many times I see this company, I never cease to be impressed by the huge variations in style: from the hybrids of tango fused with foxtrot and the waltz, through the traditional modes (Tango Classico and Milonga) and then into the show styles (Tango Cabaret) and onto more contemporary interpretations.

Despite this variety, there is a stylistic flow through the programme, opening with a light-hearted Tango Foxtrot for the whole company, appropriately entitled Don Juan, through which each pair is introduced. Thereafter, the opening act focuses mainly on classic tango and the driving pace of the Milonga, concluding with the carnival flavour of La Comparsita. The rhythms sounded familiar and this was because I had watched the film Some Like it Hot, just a day earlier, and this is the song played by the blindfolded Cuban band, while Jack Lemmon (in drag, as Daphne) dances tango with Joe E. Brown, who utters the memorable line, “Daphne, you're leading again”! Many of the instrumental numbers are similarly recognisable, even for those who might feel that they know little about Argentine tango.

Gonzalo Cuello and Melody Celatti, Tango Fire © Olivier Neubert
Gonzalo Cuello and Melody Celatti, Tango Fire
© Olivier Neubert
Cornejo and his partner, Gisela Galeassi (both former world champions, albeit in different years and with different partners) are well disguised, blended within the ensemble throughout the opening numbers, until their cover is blown with a blistering performance to Eduardo Arolas’ historically important Derecho Viejo (composed in 1916). This was the cherry on top of a sensual, seductive environment in the opening act. Their second showcase came as the show built to its finale and was a revival of their exhibition show dance, entitled Susu, one of few ongoing features of Tango Fire. Performed with smouldering smoothness, it contains a memorable presage lift held while Cornejo spins with whirlwind ferocity, just one aspect in a seamless sequence of mutually impressive physicality, musicality and timing.

Cornejo and Galeassi are well supported by five other pairs, each of whom brought distinctive personalities to bear on compelling partnered dance. The 2015 Tango World Champions, Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre, embellished traditional tango with a refined elegance that brightened the early part of each act, and I was also taken by the opening El Cencerro of Esteban Simon and Marilu Leopardi; and their Tango Americano of the second act was also sensational. The Tango Moderno of Sebastian Alvarez and Victoria Saudelli (uniquely dressed, for this number, in a fetching trouser-suit) was another highlight of a programme that combined the exciting speed of dancers’ hooking their feet in ganchos swung inside and outside of their partners’ fast-moving legs, exhilarating acrobatic lifts and the seduction of this most romantic of dance forms.

Although both parts ended peremptorily (the second act inevitably extended by “just one more” in a lively encore), the well-paced programme rarely lost momentum, featuring an eclectic array of tango styles, punctuated by relaxing musical interludes. I have said before that partnered dance doesn’t get much better than this and I’m pleased to report that German Cornejo and his troupe continue to dazzle.