What is it about theatrical shows featuring partnered dancing that requires their titles to suggest conflagration? Fresh on the heels of last autumn’s Burn The Floor – in this same theatre – comes a re-run of Tango Fire, last seen here exactly two years ago with a show entitled Flames of Desire. The extra fiery sub-title has disappeared although the simmering desire remains in a show that seems remarkably similar, albeit slimmed down from 28 to 26 numbers. It turned out to be a refreshing edit.

Basing a whole theatrical show – without a scintilla of narrative – on dance in hold, even one with so many variations of style (from the bent knee, cheek-to-cheek of a Canyengue to the seductive chest-to-chest of a Milonguero or Romantico) is challenging but the five pairs of dancers and five musicians do a fine job in keeping up the variation.

German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi
German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi
 Tango Fire presents a dance form in which gender identity appears irreversible, and the smouldering heat of seductive, heterosexual lust is ever-present. Same sex tango is hugely popular in the USA and UK, albeit entirely alien to this show. In some of these numbers, for me at least, the inherent sensuality trips over into a crude vulgarity that soon becomes grating. There are just so many times that one can see women lifted to chest-high positions, facing the audience, legs splayed wide open; flying gussets, everywhere. And, worst of all, there was one modern number, late on, in which Victoria Saudelli wore a nude-coloured, patterned body suit that made her appear as if a naked, tattooed Eve. Tango simmered out of the nineteenth century brothels, so earthy sexuality is certainly authentic; but the Garden of Eden as the first Milonga? I think not.   

Perhaps George Bernard Shaw had tango in mind when he said that ‘dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire’. In making this show, German Cornejo – the tango world champion of twelve years ago – seems intent on proving the point. Cornejo made all of the group dances and he partnered Gisela Galeassi (also world champion, with a different partner, in 2003) in a duet towards the end of each act, both of which were reprisals of their numbers from Flames of Desire. The first, a sensual classic tango to A Los Amigos; and the second, an exhibition show dance, entitled Susu. These were replete with significant physicality on the part of both dancers. And yet, despite the presage lifts and whirlwind of fast feet with Cornejo spinning Galeassi across the floor like a chair on castors, they both managed to retain a smouldering elegance. 

Two other dancers that particularly caught the eye were Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre, the 2015 Tango World Champions. They also performed a classic dance in each act, their legs whizzing around in fast flourishes, with Alegre wrapping her thighs around her partner’s torso; and each hooking their feet in ganchos swung inside and outside fast-moving legs. This is dance’s equivalent of a conjuring trick. The precision positioning of these whipped limbs would be hard to achieve if both stood still but, with the pair galloping like gazelles, bouncing gaily across the savannah, it must be akin to hitting the basket with a ball while driving by at 100mph.

A generous proportion of the show is given over to a super-suave singer (Jesus Hidalgo) and instrumentals by Quarteto Fuego; four musicians playing double bass, violin, piano and bandoneon (the concertina that seems as crucial to tango as the guitar is to flamenco). Hidalgo has a slick, smooth sentimental style, at its best in the classic ballad El Dia Que Me Quieras. His delivery of Vuelvo al Sur, a song with great emotional significance to many Latin Americans, was another solid highlight. 

This show can’t be faulted for the quality of dancing within a well-paced programme that rarely loses momentum; and featuring an eclectic variety of tango styles punctuated by a strong emphasis on musical interludes. But it stretches the envelope to bursting point and is sometimes spoiled by overt machismo and crude sexuality. Argentine tango came to life in the late nineteenth century and – if Tango Fire is indicative – it remains far removed from the social mores and sensibilities of modern times. Some will love that. But, I prefer my tango to mix more elegance into the sex.