31 Dec 2008

End of the year, Buenos Aires

Taken at 19:45 hs, 31 December 2008.

It struck me today standing outside this large doorway. Exactly to the day, a year ago.

It brought me back to that faraway moment, in the dark warm quiet indoors safe from the random burst of firecrackers out on the streets of midtown, roving bands of people celebrating their farewells to yet another ano que se fue, while calling out to the hours newly arrived. Inside, time passed immaterial. Silently oblivious to everything as the world has condensed down to 4 walls and the high ceiling which contained us.

The place behind this doorway where we first met and spent our happy moments is gone now. For a few months now, it has been shut, empty. All the people have left. A handwritten for rental sign is displayed outside the top windows.

Caught up in a moment of lightheadedness from my cigarrette smoke, it struck me suddenly standing there looking at the doorway across the street. In Buenos Aires, time stands still. In stark contrast to the manic heartbeats of the city, the daytime streets blocked with cars and buses spewing summer smog, its tecnicolour nights blurry with movements of passerbys and drenched with Piazzolla's bandoneon calling to the city and the Obelisk.

There is a saying in Argentina everything changes. Having lived and breathed the air, I can taste it, I can feel this saying deep in my bones. Everything changes, non-stop. In such a world of molecular inconstancy, one can only live in the present moment. It doesn't give you a choice. Like my other realisations of this city, I wasn't searching for it in some academic cross-examination. The revelation came from having soaked in the atmosphere, seeing, feeling the same vibrations of fate like the rest of the inhabitants of the city. Perhaps I was plugged into the city's lifeblood through you, my porteno now gone away.

6 years of living in the another southern land in the great continent of Australia hardly left me with this sense of gritty realism and the surreal, bipolaristic interplay between optimism and fatalism that is Buenos Aires and Argentina.

But conversely, perversely, because everything changes, nothing changes in Buenos Aires. Everything stays the same, in some big cosmic joke where the punchline goes over the audiences' head.

The city is impervious to the drama, the highs and lows of the human condition lived out by its people, in this land so abundantly blessed by nature and yet in turn nonchalantly cheated by nurture. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow... a tale..full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In Buenos Aires, time stands still. At the end of the day, nothing changes, and we are back to square one.

This final sunset means nothing without you, my friend.

Tonight, this last night of the year, a chilly wind blows in Buenos Aires. Too cold for this tropical wanderer to your city.

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28 Dec 2008

Heartbreak in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, end December 2008

2008 in Buenos Aires came and went. The beautiful 2008 dream has ended.

Endling my year with 2 songs from Kill Bill 2 movie end.



~ by Shivaree ~
There's a nail in the door
And theres glass on the lawn
Tacks on the floor
And the tv is on
And I always sleep with my guns
When you're gone

There's a blade by the bed
And a phone in my hand
A dog on the floor
And some cash on the nightstand
When I'm all alone the dreaming stops
And I just can't stand

What should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
And then the wind just starts to moan
Outside the door he followed me home

Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it won't be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

There's a shark in the pool
And a witch in the tree
A crazy old neighbour and he's been watching me
And there's footsteps loud and strong coming down the hall
Something's under the bed
Now its out in the hedge
There's a big black crow sitting on my window ledge
And I hear something scratching through the wall

Oh what should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
I just hate to be all alone
Outside the door he followed me home
Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

Well you're up so high
How can you save me
When the dark comes here
Tonight to take me up to my front walk
And into the bed where it kisses my face
And eats my head

Oh what should I do I'm just a little baby
What if the lights go out and maybe
And then the wind just starts to moan
Outside the door he followed me home
Now goodnight moon
I want the sun
If its not here soon
I might be done
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon
No it wont be too soon til I say
Goodnight moon

~ by Meiko Kaji 梶芽衣子 ~
Hana yo Kirei to, Odaterare,
Saite Mitanara, Sugu Chirasareru.
Baka-na, Baka-na,
Baka-na On'na no... Urami-bushi.

Sadame Kanashi to, Ariramete,
Naki-wo Misereba, Mata Nakasareru.
On'na, On'na,
On'na Namida no... Urami-bushi.

Nikui, Kuyashii, Yurusenai.
Kesu ni Kesenai, Wasure-rarenai.
Tsukinu, Tsukinu,
Tsukinu On'na no... Urami-bushi.

Yume yo Miren to, Warawarete,
Samete-misemasu, Mada Same-kirenu.
On'na, on'na,
On'na-gokoro no... Urami-bushi.

Makka-na Bara nya, Toge ga Aru.
Sashitaka-naiga Sasazu'nya-okanu.
Mo'eru, Mo'eru,
Mo'eru On'na-no... Urami-bushi.

Shinde Hanami ga, Sakuja Nashi,
Urami Hito-suji, Ikite-yuku.
On'na, On'na,
On'na Inochi no... Urami-bushi.

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26 Jun 2008

To dance well, you have to know

How To Wait (Part I)

In the present moment, June 2008

"The most difficult thing in the dance is to wait"

Pablo Retamar

Occasionally during class, remarks casually uttered by teachers leave a lasting impression. These sayings, short, pithy, have the unwavering accuracy of a cobra's strike. They contain one part dance technique, one part philosophy and one part observation of the human pysche. The astuteness, simplicity and elegance of the observations have the blinding force of an epiphany.

These are moments of "wu" (悟 enlightenment) in my dance. In a flash, my mind crystalised into thought what my body has already unsubconsciously understood as a natural result of dancing and learning in Buenos Aires.

Why we Don't Wait when we Dance

There is no Time!
To function in the modern city life, we are almost conditioned not to wait. Existing in a world of high speed super-whiz bang technology, with its intrinsic work pressures, stressed time management, family commitments, there is never enough time. Work assignments with yesterday deadlines, impatient clients, traffic, crowded streets, long queues everywhere for food, to pay the bills, grocery shopping etc etc.

Time is a monster. To parody the saying, we have become Time's Bitch.

Faster! Higher! Stronger!
(apologies to the Olympic Games)
In our minds, waiting often implies = being slower, which in turn leads to = losing out. We are conditioned since young to excel. The competitive world tells us that the early bird gets the worm. We have to be faster (and hence better) than the next person. First product to market. First to reach the finish line.

The flipside of this mindset is a fear of failure. Being faster vindicates that we are not slow, we are not stupid.

The Dreaded Silence
Don't laugh when I say this. Majority of us will agree that most people do not handle silence well. It makes people uncomfortable. People feel obliged to make small talk, about the weather, traffic, news of the day, anything! to break the dreaded silence ie. the fear of not knowing what to say to fill up the space. It is the same with people making presentations or giving talks when not behind the safety of a podium, they have the awkwardness of not knowing what to do with their hands.

So from moment to moment in our normal daily routine, we feel we must do something to fill up space once it becomes available.

The problem is that unwittingly, we bring these attitudes and our insecurities even to our leisurely pursuits. This comes across in our dance.

What does it mean to "wait" in tango?
Dancing with someone who has not waited sufficiently feels like this. To use an analogy, it is like speaking to someone who is constantly giving an answer before we have finish speaking the entire sentence up to the full stop.

Let's flip the situation around. To continue in the above analogy, since we did not actually hear the complete sentence from our partner to the very last word, how would we know that we are giving the full response in return?

Of not waiting adequately : "Better" case scenario...
The "conversation flow" between the two dancer is on-going....but with maniacal overtones. Because one or both parties did not wait completely for the step to be fully conveyed before launching off on their own stride, there is no natural ebb and flow from one movement to the next. The movements lack a certain release, so overall there is a physical feeling that the shared dance has a faint echo of tautness.

So it is like this: Picture 2 persons on caffeine-high chatting about their favourite pastime :)

When we dance with excellent dancers, failure to wait completely is our loss since we miss out on the subtle nuances and cadence that makes their dancing so wonderful.

Of not waiting adequately : Worst case scenario...
We respond to our partner well ahead of time. In our rush to response, we did not anticipate that our partner's intended step is not as we had imagined. By rushing ahead (and guessing wrong), we have effectively robbed our partner of the choice of his/her intended next step after this step. Being able to give our partner the freedom of choice when dancing is a very nice thing to share.

Even if we made the right "guess", by not waiting enough, it is very likely the timing between one movement to the next will be out of sync.

Up to this point, perhaps some readers may have made the assumptions that the situations above apply solely to the follower's lapse in not waiting fully for the leader. Or it relates to dancing specifically in either open-embrace, or close-embrace.

In actuality, this quality of knowing how to wait in the dance is equally important, whatever the embrace, for both men and ladies alike.

Why do I say knowing how to wait fully applies equally to the men?

In the event there may be a small handful of unaware leaders out there who routinely fault only the ladies on being too quick on the trigger - leaders, let me tell you a well-known secret
~ You have to follow the ladies too ~
As much as we ladies must follow, leaders in return you have to follow the ladies. You must understand how to wait too, for that just right moment when our movements are complete, before you embark on the subsequent move.

Leaders who rush into the next step, you will produce a slight out-of-sync feeling which will decrease the quality of your dance.

More on knowing how to wait next.
-To be continued-

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17 Jun 2008

Newsflash - Trouble in Buenos Aires!

In the present moment, June 2008

For visitors planning to visit Buenos Aires this week, DON'T. My recommendations - postpone your plans for this week and perhaps for the next week too.

Remember "El Paro del Campo", the footnote in my last entry? El Paro del Campo was the strike by the agricultural sector to protest the rise in exportation taxes by the Argentine government.

The current atmosphere in Buenos Aires aren't so quite nonchalant as previously described. Over the last few weeks, the situation has slowly but steadily deteriorated. Food items like meat, vegetables, milk etc. are running low once again. These dietary stables have been increasingly hard to come by in the city. Of course with food scarcity, rising prices just fuel the overall sense of disquiet in the city.

The escalating tension between the warring factions have spread to the street level. People are still out and about on the streets but the mood is subdued. There is a certain wariness in their behaviour not seen earlier during the food shortage in March. What I mean by "wariness" is that the portenos are being very careful right now about spending money, except where absolutely necessary. It is a reflection of the sense of uncertainty, perhaps in anticipation of bad times ahead. The riots in year 2000 and the following decimation of Argentina's economy are still fresh in people's mind.

With the coming summer holidays in the northern hemisphere, the peak tourist season for European tango visitors to Buenos Aires is fast approaching. My suggestion to visitors and tango friends - it may be more prudent to buy an airticket with some flexibility for date changes. In the meantime, monitor BA's situation closely.

Newsflash, Take Note!!
Strikes / riots are expected in the city centre tomorrow, Wednesday 18 June. For visitors already in the city, venture out with alertness.

We love tango and Buenos Aires. Just remember to keep safe.

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26 May 2008

"So... what do you eat when you are REALLY hungry?"

In the present moment, May 2008

For vegetarian (& other visitors) to BA:-

One early afternoon I was in the company of several vegetarian tango friends visiting Buenos Aires. For lunch, we settled for convenience upon a resturant along Av. Sante Fe after a trip to Comme Il Faut, just around the corner 1.5 block away.

Besides myself and another friend, there were 3 vegetarians (2 girls, 1 guy) around the table having lunch. The conversation turned to the topic of finding vegetarian fare in Buenos Aires. When the mozo (waiter) came to take our orders, one of the girls, a Bulgarian with pretty eyes, decided to try her luck to ask for a tomato juice. The expectant mozo, poised with pen and notepad in hand, paused slightly, evidently non-plussed by this unusual request. He gave a polite but definitive reply "No hay!" (There isn´t any). Fruit juices in restaurants here are strictly FRUIT juices. Ask for an fruit juice or what is known here as "licuador" - orange and grapefruit juice are ubiquitous....even peach, banana, apple etc, and you will be fine. Anything else more exotic and you are likely out of luck.

As a devoted red meat lover, I do not perhaps have a proper appreciation of the ordeal vegetarians face in Buenos Aires. My own diet when eating out, consist of an unhealthy but happy regime of pizzas and meat-based dishes, so the lack of palatable vegetarian dishes never bothered me much. My own limited perspective had always been - well, after all, there are always salads on the menu no matter where you go, so perhaps it wasn´t as rough on vegetarians as it has been rumoured.

Granted the choices may not be very exciting, unless one ventures to the finer and hipper dining spots in Palermo or Recoleta. The typical house salad on the menu is an uninteresting mixture of lettuce, tomato and onions with a simple salad dressing. Other common choices available would perhaps be a Caesar or Russian Salad (Ensalada Rusa: potato, egg, carrot and peas with mayonnaise). Plus there are a few vegetarian pastas and risottos too, which seemed decent enough I thought.

Over lunch, we discovered that due to a lack of time to cook in, our Bulgarian friend had been existing on a limited diet of cheese, nuts and bread for the last week. She recounted her comic-tragic experiences in Buenoes Aires being vegetarian:

"I am vegetarian, so I will have to look for vegetarian dishes when eating out in the city" she explained to a porteno.

"Ah! I see, I see" replied the porteno, nodding sympathetically.

"But, what do you eat when you are REALLY hungry?" asked the porteno a few seconds later.

Oh dear. Poor things (I mean the vegetarians).

In case readers suspect the sincerity of the above mentioned porteno, I have heard stories that requests by customers to leave meat (carne) out of the dish may still result in liberal smatterings of chicken and ham. Don´t laugh, but some people here do not consider those 2 items as "carne".

The medley of guidebooks on Buenos Aires mentioned a handful of interesting vegetarian restaurants in the city, scattered around Palermo, Recoleta-Barrio Norte or sometimes in tourist-filled San Telmo.

Put this in the perspective of tango dancers who are visiting Buenos Aires for a few short weeks. Time is a luxury. Days are spent rushing between classes, hunting down shoes and CDs while nights are passed amidst milongas and practicas. Time flies quickly. Most tango visitors I met stayed around the central city area; they have limited time to cook and usually grab a bite outside between tango activities. So unless one makes an effort to make time out to seek out these vegetarian establishments, mouth-watering vegetarian meals will not be daily fare.

My lunch companions and I joked that with the on-and-off (currently ON) food strike affecting Buenos Aires*, vegetarians will survive the longest if we starve. And finally have the last laugh.

For vegetarian visitors to Buenos Aires, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Av. Corrientes & Callao and need a bite, perhaps you could check out this vegetarian restaurant call "La Ciboulette" around the corner on Sarmiento & Callao (Sarmiento 1808):-

Incredibly, this seemingly little known restaurant is actually a vegetarian "tenedor libre" (literal translation: "Free fork". ie. Eat-all-you-want for a set price) with a smorgasbord of vegetarian meals. Perhaps here, vegetarians can finally find a relatively decent selection of dishes. Unfortunately I can´t give a review of the quality, and I hope readers would forgive my lack of spirit as it is not my natural inclination to choose vegetarian establishments for my eating pleasure. Hopefully this little post-it note on the community bulletin board will help to ease the lot of visitors to meat-obsessed Buenos Aires.

Incidentally, this restaurant is also located nearby one of the sites used for CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino) held in March every year in Buenos Aires. So CITA visitors can seek out this place when pressed for time during the festival.

The story with the Bulgarian friend has a happy ending. Five minutes later, the same mozo returned to our table and announced the surprising news "Ms, I am pleased to say that we can indeed prepared tomato juice if you like us to bring you one. Would that be fine with you?"

The tomato juice was drank gratefully.

* El Paro del Campo (The strike of the rural area):
In March, the government and the rural sector embarked upon a tussle of war over the proposed rise in exportation taxes of food product. Basically, with the strong Euro and US dollar against the Argentine peso, it is much more lucrative for the large agricultural industry to export home grown products like beef, vegetables, grains etc to Europe and United States. This government wants to raise export taxes and at the same time discourage the outflux of the best products from the country. The agriculturalists struck back against the government by stopping food from coming into Buenos Aires.

The 1st strike lasted for over 3 weeks in March. Beef and pork literally disappeared from the supermarkets shelves. Popular supermarket chains like "Coto" and "Disco" displayed sadly empty "carne" sections, only chicken was left. During this time of "sin-carne" in Buenos Aires, I saw portenos poking with dismayed expressions at the packets of chicken left on the supermarket shelves, which they either bought with a lack of enthusiasm or simply walked away from. You can tell which food "groups" come first for the porteno taste buds :)

In April, a truce was finally agreed upon between the warring protagonists, so the blockade lifted for 3 weeks in April while the government and the agriculture sector engaged in more talks. In early May, talks broke down and the agriculturalists went on their 2nd strike to continue their protest. As I type, apparently today the negotiations took a turn for the worse. Bit of a debacle...

This time round, the supermarkets and wholesalers are prepared. They stocked up on food during the truce in April. Readers will be glad to know that to date in Coto and Disco, the shelves are flushed with Carne, Pollo (chicken) y Verdura (vegetables).

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4 May 2008

The Big Bosses of Tango: ANIBAL TROILO

In the present moment, May 2008

Some folks are addicted to the news, to events currently happening. Que paso?? Take my parents for instance. News on the telly, news on the radio, news articles in the newspapers. News in my country, news overseas, news from all round the world. Such are daily fodders of life for my parents, who are rivetted to news on an hourly basis.

Conversely, I am inordinately fond of documentaries and given any excuse, will consume them in large qualities like popping candies. The calm and factual voice of documentary-telling, when juxtaposed with the colourful stories unfolding infront of one´s eyes, is a fascinating combination which gives me hours of viewing pleasure. There lives a bit of the historian in everyone:)

Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo
Finally I have the opportunity to watch the DVD tango documentary "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo". The word "Capo" is used to refer to the Head of an organised crime syndicate, a.k.a The Big Boss.

The nickname given to Troilo by his dad was "Pichuco", and affectionately, Troilo is also referred to as "El Gordo" ("Gordo" means fat). Since Anibal Troilo passed away in the month of May (18 May 1975), I though it is rather apt to feature this article during this month.

If you are a fan of tango music, you will know of the unassailable status Anibal Troilo occupies today. He is Argentina´s national hero of tango music. Troilo is known as "El Bandoneón mayor de Buenos Aires" (The greatest bandoneon of Buenos Aires).

The day of Troilo´s birth (11 July 1914) on 11 July has been dedicated as the National Day of the Bandoneon in Argentina.

The sphere of influence of Troilo´s mark goes beyond that of tango music for dancing, although Troilo was always intent on his dancing audience. His warm personality that inspired goodwill and loyalty from those that knew him, his vision in arrangement and most of all, his talent as an orchestra leader for orchestrating and elevating tango music to a complex and symphonic level made Troilo the national tango icon that he is today.

For fans of Troilo, we can enjoy the elegantly designed official website of Anibal Troilo at http://www.troilo.com.ar/ The Spanish version contains a fascinating wealth of information on Troilo, while the English and Japanese versions are in brief.

"El Bandoneón mayor de Buenos Aires"

I previously read that Anibal Troilo adored his mother above all else. So the documentary began fittingly with these words in the voice of his bandoneon:

"It is me, your bandoneon, I am talking to you Anibal Troilo, from Solera and Gallo*. The one you used to take to the movie at Corrientes and Medrano** as a boy.

The same bandoneon your old mother bought, with the coins she used to keep in the closet, and it was on her account that my plaintive tunes were sadder on the opening night of "Alma de bohemio" ".

* Solera and Gallo are streets in the barrio of Palermo in Buenos Aires. The area is also popularly known as Palermo Soho, for its resemblance to the artistic vibes of Soho, NYC.

** Similarly, Corrienties and Medrano are 2 cross streets along Avenida Corrientes, at the Subte (train) station Medrano (B line) in the barrio Almagro.

The documentary recounts that Troilo´s love affair with the bandoneon started young; he convinced his mother Doña Felisa to purchase his first bandoneon when he was 10 years old. In his youth, Troilo was influenced by 2 renowned bandoneonists, Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz. The duo at the time were part of Julio de Caro´s sextet. Another major bandoneonist who shaped his style was Ciriaco Ortiz, whose orchestra Troilo played in before starting his own.

Troilo made his debut on 1 July, 1937 with his own orchestra tipica. Among his musicians was the pianist Orlando Goni while Francisco Florentino was his singer. With this pairing, the orchestra played rhythmic, very danceable music. Later on with singers such as Alberto Marino and Floreal Ruiz, the orchestra developed a more melodic style with less driving compass.

How Troilo played his bandoneon

"No hay tango viejo ni tango nuevo. El tango es uno sólo. Tal vez la única diferencia está en los que lo hacen bien y los que lo hacen mal."
Aníbal Troilo

(There is no old tango or new tango. The tango is one. Perhaps the only difference is in those who do it well and those who do it badly.)

Troilo´s stage presence is a distinctive one. He sat quite still and played with quiet and plaintive eyes, staring lost in internal conversation with his bandoneon. The classic signature look is Troilo playing with his eyes closed, head slightly tilted, double-chin pursed and rapted in phrasing the bandoneon chords. Above I have included a CD cover that captured this signature look of Troilo´s.

It was said that Troilo had a relatively understated and retrospective style. Paradoxically, his control and fine balance allowed his bandoneon music to convey poignancy, subtleness of emotions and richness of texture.

In the documentary "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo" there was a description that I particularly liked of Troilo´s style. In an interview with the bandoneonist and arranger Pascal Mamone, he described a tremendous sweetness in the Troilo sound. He said, "There was one thing about Troilo, he would play a note... which will perforate your heart"

The description in Castellano: "Hacer una nota que te perforaba tu corazon"] - what a marvellously beautiful and poetic turn of phrase!

Pascal Mamone was borned in 1921. He was taught by his idol Pedro Maffia and later joined his orchestra in 1942.

Recommendations of "Los Capos Del Tango: Anibal Troilo"
If you are interested in knowing more about Anibal Troilo, one of the greatest celebrity of tango music, this DVD would be an excellent source of interviews and archival material. The tone in the DVD documentary is slightly academic, so I would recommend this DVD as a must for Troilo fans and lovers of tango music who are already versed in the major tango orchestras and various musicians.

For fans of old tango movies, there is even an amusing scene from "Tango Vuelve a Paris" (Tango Back in Paris, made in 1948) showing Alberto Castillo together with Anibal Troilo, in animated discussion about taking Paris by storm with their music, in the same way that Pizaro, Canaro, Arolas and Gardel had made their triumph marks before.

So far there is only 1 other DVD made in this series, Los Capos Del Tango: JUAN D´ARIENZO. I was told that the directors had planned another DVD on Osvaldo Pugliese but apparently the effort stalled in the negotiation of production rights.

Information on the DVD:
"Los Capos del Tango: Anibal Troilo" was produced for Solo Tango and contains approximately 93 mins of play in total, featuring 60 mins of material taken from interviews and visual material of Solo Tango archives. In addition, it comes with an extra 30 mins consisting of 3 musical videoclips of Troilo and his orchestra tipica. Non-Spanish speakers would be pleased to know that while the language medium used is Spanish, English subtitles are included!

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29 Apr 2008

"Maria de Buenos Aires" turns 40

In the present moment, Apr 2008

The coming 8 May 2008 marks 40 years of the première of "Maria de Buenos Aires", an operita work of Astor Piazzolla in collaboration with the poet Horacio Ferrer that became known around the world.

It is a surrealistic song cycle-like story told in 2 parts, recounting the life and death of Maria, who came from the slums of Buenos Aires to the city, fell to the seduction of tango and became a streetwalker. After her death, Maria was condemned to hell - of the city of Buenos Aires itself. Her shadow wanders through Avenida Corrientes, the epicenter of cinemas and theatres in Buenos Aires.

"Maria de Buenos Aires" was the first collaborative work between Piazzolla and Ferrer, the start of a partnership that left compositions from "Balada para un loco" to "Chiquilín de Bachín", "El Gordo Triste", "La ultima Grela" and many others.

The operita premièred on 8 May 1968 in the Sala Planeta, located at the streets Suipacha and Paraguay in the microcentro of Buenos Aires, with Piazzolla (bandonenon) and Ferrer (narrator): sang by Amelita Baltar and Hector de Rosas, Hugo Baralis and Antonio Agri (violins), Nestor Panik (viola), Victor Pontino (cello), Kicho Diaz (bass), Tito Bisio (vibes), Cacho Tirao (guitar) and Arturo Schneider (flute).

The operita was released in September of the same year under the recording label Trova (LP Trova TL-20/2).

It has been reported that Maria de Buenos Aires will form part of the next season of the Colon Theater, which herself will turn a century old this year.

The above has been partially sourced and translated from the publication "La Portena Tango", Buenos Aires, Issue No.45, April 2008.

Writer´s notes:
1. During his lifetime, Piazzolla struggled for recognition for his avant garde creations to be regarded as tango by the country that gave birth to him and his music. The acceptance came perhaps slowly, and not until his works shot to fame overseas before this land took their prodigal son to their embrace. Maria de Buenos Aires was one of the key works that led to his resounding success around the world, that came to know of Astor Piazzolla and tango.

2. Since my arrival in Buenos Aires almost a year ago, the grand Theater Colon has been stubbornly barracaded behind scaffoldings for renovation works.

I heard that the reopening of Theater Colon is scheduled for May 2008! Although this remains to be seen. Renovation works of heritage structures can be notoriously tricky to manage.

3. The Trova re-issue is a double CD 5013 & 5014 (1993, Argentina).

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18 Apr 2008

La Revancha Del Tango! Reloaded

In the present moment, Apr 2008

Musings for fellow tango pilgrims to Buenos Aires.
Imagine this: -

Living next door to your preferred place of milonga patronage? Be it either El Beso, Maipu 444 or Salon Canning, Villa Malcolm or perhaps, the swinging La Viruta. How cool. How absolutely wonderful that would be, you say?

In all innocence, I had envisioned living in super-close proximity to the milongas to be a most marvelous thing. Due to either the size of my small country or (much closer to the truth) having very lazy bones, I have some reticence towards commuting. To make the dreary trudge back from the milongas, especially at the late hours when sleep calls, is entirely lacking in appeal. I confess there had been more than a few times that I changed my mind and opted out of venturing out to the milongas, upon thinking of the “distance” of the return trip in the wee hours of the morning...

[Yes, yes, many of you would be first to point out that I left everything behind to come here halfway around the world to dance tango. But at 4.30 am in the morning with tired eyes and feet in the aftermath of hours of dancing, things appear in a somewhat different light…. ]

When the opportunity to relocate back to the area of Av. Corrientes came along a couple of months ago, I was eager and full of hope. This area held great familiarity since I first settled down here when I arrived in Buenos Aires mid-last year. The frequent haunts of my routine life in Buenos Aires are all located within the convenience of a 4-block radius. My favourite tango music shops, favourite pizza places and the essential ice-cream store that I can’t do without. Same goes for my yoga classes.

Even when I subsequently moved to another barrio in a nicer district for six months, I never cut my umbilical links with the hectic streets around Corrientes. Regular as clockwork, I always came up with some reasons to return and make my rounds every couple of days.

Back to my story. I remembered thinking to myself almost gloatingly back then... ... SO... not only will I return to familiar grounds of Av. Corrientes, on top of it all I shall get to live next door to one of the most popular downtown milongas? What an unexpected bonus! No more traveling! I was delighted at the delicious idea of popping back next door upstairs to a nice comfortable bed, night after night of dancing.

Just shows that flights of fantasies are fine and well…. Reality “es otra cosa” (reality is another thing). Admittedly in my sheer enthusiasm, there were a couple of factors that I had blindly failed to consider in assessing the suitability of my current place. Firstly, the apartment is “frente”. This is the local realtor speak for an apartment facing the front of the building. Usually such apartments are sought after over another apartment without a forward aspect. Secondly, the apartment is on the first floor.

Two innocuous details by themselves. When the building is next to a dance club that plays music almost every night “till late” (remember, this is the Buenos Aires concept of “late”), together, they become a deadly combination.

What is bad tango music? The tongue-in-cheek answer is that it has nothing to do with the orchestra. “Bad” tango music is ANY tango music that won’t go away when you are trying to get some sleep. It could be your favourite orchestras. No matter. After a number of wakeful nights with earplugs in place, lovely tango music no longer inspires one to put on those uber-chic Comme Il Faut stilettos and dance the night away. Instead, the four walls of one's room seem to reverberate with strains of the infamous “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston, co-starred Kevin Coster in the movie Bodyguard.

La Revancha Del Tango!
(The Revenge of Tango!)

From nights of “observation", the tango club next door plays a certain style of tango music. The theme is lyrical, with a soothing tinge. Like a defining signature, De Sarli puts in an appearance without fail, putting his stamp of endorsement on the evening. Often present is the Tanturi and Campos pairing and other times his other singer Castillo who sings with “arrabalero” gusto, the accents of the barrios. In with the lyrical mix is Calo of course, Demare, an occasional De Angelis, some lyrical Troilo with Fiorentino. Fresedo also lends well to the mood here. As evident, on the whole nothing overtly frantic.

I can’t resist a final Parthian shot. Imagine this: D'Arienzo at his irresistible, manic best would wreck havoc on the languid mood with his picado music. Antz Pantz, off your chairs everyone!

Postnote #1:
Sadly, the new place has no internet which has been disruptive on this writer’s impulse to blog en vivo (live). A big sorry to friends who wondered what happened to the news ??

Postnote #1:
This blog was written purely tongue-in-cheek, inspired by nights of tango music next door with no OFF switch. A situation entirely due to the writer's own making for letting enthusiasm over-ride commonsense. This writer still loves tango music. Dancing to tango music in the milongas of Buenos Aires still gives her goose-bumps (see earlier entry “Ah, the music!” upon arrival in Buenos Aires). Here, tango music sounds unbelievably sweet and intense, more dizzily intoxicating than the golden bubbles in champagne.

Let this dancer immerse in your champagne bubbles, tango!!

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25 Feb 2008

The In-s, Out-s & In-Betweens of the Embrace

In the present moment, Feb 2008


After these months in BA to date, what have I observed about the makings of a good embrace?

My thoughts today are not focused on the technicalities of the embrace: such as the merits of full chest-to-chest vs. a v-shape chest contact, or which direction the heads should face etc etc.

What I am interested in is a lot simpler than the complex dissections found in some of the forum discussions.

Before starting on this topic, here is a interesting observation about the ambience of the traditional milongas here. In striking contrast to the rushed pace of this frantic, restless city, nobody is much in a hurry in the milongas in Buenos Aires (at least among the portenos). Veteran milongueras, the women strike leisurely poses and nonchalant-charm. Perhaps taking extra care not to betray any anxiety or desperation for a dance.

Nobody starts dancing the second the music starts. Everybody chats amicably for a bit while waiting for the couple ahead to start off on the tango merry-go-around.

This attitude of unhurried composure is directly translated into the tango embrace.

Starting the Embrace: The In-s
The first step is moving into each other’s embrace peacefully. An air of quiet reassurance from the man says to the lady, come to me and trust me.

The leader sense that the lady has settled physically into the embrace before moving off. Leaders, if your partner has not settled into your embrace before you decide to move off, the jarring sensation would be felt immediately by both. A surprising start is perhaps not the best foundation for the tanda ahead.

Todo Tranquilo para Bailar I (For the Men)
Setting this tone of calm for the dance is important. Maestro Javier Rodriguez once said in a class, the gentleman should hold the lady in his arms like a baby during the dance.

What does Javier mean with this analogy? Think about about how it would feel. We would hold a baby securely in our arms, not in a tentative or frail manner (as if the baby will drop from our arms at any minute). Yet the hold is gentle, since we are not attempting a strangle-hold on the (poor) baby.

During the dance, we would take care to create a comfortable environment. Not to unduly startle the baby with sudden movements without adequate preparation to mark the move. The baby feels safe, secure and happy. Likewise gentlemen, it will be so for the ladies!

Todo Tranquilo para Bailar II (For the Ladies)
Ladies, the man has many responsibilities to take care of to dance with us. It is not an easy task. The important thing for us ladies is to remember to be relaxed in the embrace. By this, I don’t mean that the body turns to jell-o. While in this relaxed state, the core muscles sustaining our middle remains active. We hold ourselves and our own axis.

Tension or nervousness will be transmitted to our partner and make the man’s job to lead harder. This is very easily felt in the embrace. Vice versa for the men, of course.

Relax the mind so that we can better listen to what the men is communicating to us. Since I am a strongly visual person, it is my personal preference to close my eyes to reduce visual distractions. At least here in Buenos Aires, porteno ladies young and older keep their eyes open, or close as they please. So there is really no “rule” about this.

Beware the In-Betweens!
Leaders, don’t latch onto your partner throughout the break between songs in a tanda. The dance is over after the song ends. Now is the time to make social chit-chat, especially since the milonga is a social occasion to get to know your dance partner.

More importantly, doing so often implies an intimate intention. Not even real life couples hang onto one another for dear life during the break between songs within the tanda.

Ending the Embrace: The Out-s
Coming out of the embrace is a natural and mutual separation between the man and the woman. There is nothing very challenging or profound about it.

Once at Maipu 444, I danced a tanda with a tango visitor who had a most disconcerting way of dropping the embrace so fast, it felt as if we parted before the last note has ended for each song. Since this visitor cabaceo me for another tanda later, I concluded that the dancing was not objectionable.

Although I am sure he didn’t meant to be rude, his style of rapid separation gave the impression he does not know how to take care of a woman’s feelings or understand the mutual sharing during the dance.

It is possible to sense many things about our partner during dance. The overall impression I received from this gentleman is that the woman is simply a means to an end to dance tango.

Frankly, this is a terrible thought.

So what is the fundamental ingredient that makes an embrace?

Besides dancing close-embrace, I have had some excellent dances here in Buenos Aires in either open or semi-open embrace too, with shared mutual connection and enjoyment. There is no faking this feeling.

My final thoughts on the embrace is this:

Just because a couple choose to dance in close embrace does not automatically equate to a connection. This is merely form. It is what you give to one another and to the dance, genuinely. This is essence.

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28 Jan 2008

The Great "Lady Day" Part II: Tango Thoughts

In the present moment, Jan 2008
This is a blog about Lady Day, but it lead me to think about tango, or the pursuit of any art form in general.

It is natural that in our undertakings, those who excel at their art inspire us towards their greatness. Their inimitable style, grace and creativity give us fresh hope and energy. They become our role models, their accomplishments represent a path to follow suit in their footsteps.

In tango, many of us dance wanting to be someone else. Needless to say the same phenomenon occurs here in Buenos Aires, locals and visitors alike. Dancers spent their time following a particular tango celebrity, trying to emulate their dance style, steps or even the way of dressing.

To me, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to spend so much time and energy, only to become a clone of someone else. At best, we become a very very good copy of the tango celebrity.

So what is wrong with being a very very good copy?

For one, you will always be "second-best". Why define your own limits with someone's yardstick?

At worse, it will be akin to living a lie that you may never have the courage to emerge from.

The top tango maestros have strongly individualistic styles. They are iconic figures in tango not only because of their technical competence but because their dance is their own and nobody else's. They reached their level after many years of dancing and exploration to develop their dance.

The difference is to learn from them, instead of setting your heart to be like them. The best teachers will show you the means to become free in the dance. Don’t undo this gift from them.

So, if you have decided or you feel that tango is an important part of you, then perhaps take a look at what Billie Holiday said about her singing. At what other people said of her singing. In Charlie Parker's words: "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."

So live it, experience it. Have courage to find your own path in tango.

What is the first step to achieving this?
When you dance, dance with honesty. This way you will find your own dance in tango.

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21 Jan 2008

The Great "Lady Day": Part I

In the present moment, Jan 2008
My language exams seem a faint memory, I am fully enjoying my holidays. Even pleasurable activities like writing in this blog were left aside in the festive mood of December. Christmas passed in the midst of celebrations and a new year started in Buenos Aires for me. A new year comes with new hopes.

My thoughts turned to Lady Day for this entry and the next.

Billie "Lady Day" Holiday

I don't listen to much jazz. Billie Holiday is by far my favourite singer, although I admit I listen to her because the emotions are so raw in many of her songs. So paradoxically, I only listen her once in a blue moon.

I came across on this website some writing about Billie Holiday. It was taken from the book "BIG STAR FALLIN' MAMA - Five Woman in Black Music" written by Hettie Jones. Here is a section on how Lady Day sang

"One day we were so hungry we could barely breathe. I started out the door. It was cold as all-hell and I walked from 145th to 133rd..... going in every joint trying to find work....... I stopped in the Log Cabin Club run by Jerry Preston... told him I was a dancer. He said to dance. I tried it. He said I stunk. I told him I could sing. He said sing. Over in the corner was an old guy playing the piano. He struck Trav'lin and I sang. The customers stopped drinking. They turned around and watched. The pianist... swung into Body and Soul. Jeez, you should have seen those people - all of them started crying. Preston came over, shook his head and said, "Kid, you win."

Billie Holiday was not quite seventeen then; it was 1932. Before she was done singing in the summer of 1959 many more people had cried over her Trav'lin All Alone and Body and Soul. There were popular songs, as were most others she sang, and a lot of other people recorded and performed them. But Billie transformed them. She was a jazz singer; she put the blues inside and made each song her own. She thought of her voice as an instrument: "I don't think I'm singing, she explained. "I feel like I'm playing a horn... What comes out is what I feel."

A lot of different feelings came out of Billie's horn - she sang for over twenty-five years, in the United States and Europe as well. She could be gentle, funny, sarcastic, heartbreaking. Her honesty about feeling was what made people cry; she found it hard to lie. Astonished critics cried: "'She appears to mean every word she is singing" and "You believed every word she sang." There were some words about which Billie was especially believable. People told her no one sang "hunger" like she did, or "love." She sang what she knew, a first rule in playing jazz as Charlie Parker explained it: "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." Billie said simply, "You just feel it, and when you sing it other people can feel something too."

These are some quotes by Billie Holiday about her own singing:

"I can't stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain't music, it's close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music."

"If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all."

"I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know."

"If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling."

And finally, this quote -
"No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music."

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