Napoletango is an energetic show, full of delight and Italian joy-de-vivre, which fuses the clowning of Commedia Dell’Arte with the aesthetics of Pina Bausch. But take note: if you are looking for a masterclass in the art of tango, then you should probably look elsewhere.
There’s a story of sorts. The family Incoronato are passionate about tango dancing. They shriek about it at the top of their voices, dream about it in their sleep and even move along to its rhythms in the shower. The show is divided into thirty four different segments, charting the journey of the family from novices to fully fledged stage performers. In the hands of director Giancarlo Sepe, the Tango is a dance of longing, in all its ridiculous and ugly forms, rather than purely an exercise in technical prowess. Each of the segments recreate a tango in is played out in an unexpected setting. An old people’s tango sees the dancer’s weakened bodies shaking against each other. In the shower tango, the semi-naked bodies of the dancers bounce up and down desperately. Here it is not the sensuality but the humanity of the performers which shines through.
There’s a highly metatheatrical quality to the production; it explores the spirit of performance and the reasons why people perform rather than the subtleties of the tango itself. This is wonderfully reflected in Carlo De Marino’s set design. The wings are open so you can see every exit and entrance, and at points it’s possible to see various members of the technical crew walking around the side of stage. The design of the production’s first half consists of the grey wall, which is removed to reveal a mirror-lined stage space in the second half. The audience are made to star at themselves staring at the performers; later people even are dancing in the aisles with the sweating and enthusiastic cast.
The piece is strongest when it slips into darker territory. The leader of the company Concetta Incoronato, performed by Cristina Donadio, speaks and dances about the death of her son in the First World War. She holds a bunch of red roses which she throws at his ghost, who is thrashing around under a spotlight, producing tango-esque movements to a delirious accordion soundtrack. Scenes like these are heavily influenced by Pina Bausch, glorifying the different, strange and plain bizarre, the rawness of human yearning. The wobbling bodies of the performers, old and young, fat and thin, are united in the familiar/familial act of dancing together.
The production also draws from Italy’s rich history of Commedia Dell’Arte. The clownish and messy choreography sends up the pretentions of the smooth and sultry tango, robbing the dance of any sexual potency and delivering instead the more human theme of desire for unity through movement. There are plenty of Tango shows out there for the London audience – Tango Fire recently mounted at Sadler’s Wells comes to mind. This show does something laudably different. My only concern is that its marketing does not adequately reflect this, and more than a few audience members looked disgruntled that they did not see the spectacle of Argentine Tango they came for. This is a shame as the show as it stands is a strong one and likely to appeal both to lovers of avant-garde dance and to a more mainstream audience.