Che Malambo” is described as an, ‘Argentinian Dance Spectacular, danced solely by men. The Malambo dance began in the 17th century as competitive duels that would challenge skills of agility, strength and dexterity’. Those fortunate enough to have attended their breath-taking performances at the Royal Opera House Muscat last weekend would add many superlatives to this description. The company of just twelve virtuoso drummer-dancers was brought together through the fascination of French Choreographer and former ballet dancer, Gilles Brinas, with the troubled, dark traditional form. ‘He was drawn to the particular rhythms, the haunting characters and the lonely expression of the ‘gaucho’ who spends his life on horseback. Brinas was inspired by the talented artists he found in Buenos Aires and was moved to create the powerhouse all-male company, ‘Che Malambo’ in 2007 from the best dancers in Argentina’.
The show was stark and brutal, back-lit in monochrome reds while the twelve dancer-drummers were clad in black singlets, dance pants and heeled dancing shoes. On Thursday the performance opened with the whole company pounding their ‘bombos’ (a Taiko-like traditional Argentine drum made out of hollowed tree trunks covered with cured animal skin, beaten with two drumsticks) with feet tapping and stomping in intricate, complex rhythmic patterns, punctuated by primordial roars throughout. A solo dancer-drummer took front of stage and worked a fascinating interplay of syncopated drum and feet rhythms which built up in a wild crescendo of sound and movement.
A dance duet performed a dialogue of talking feet in tap-dancing heeled shoes, with all the passion of Flamenco in dizzily perfect synchronisation. Ten dancers moved with such mesmerising speed and precision one can only imagine how many hours of rigorous training, discipline and control is demanded to refine each powerful gesture.
In complete contrast to the incessant pattern of percussive feet and membrane, one barefoot artist appeared with a Spanish guitar, dancing while strumming three or four chords, repeated over and over as dancers gradually joined him on stage in a stylised barefoot ballet. Two drummers joined the party with an incredibly fast dialogue while dancers accelerated their footwork and body percussion in stunning synchronisation.
If the incredible technique portrayed so far were not dazzling enough, a solo ‘boleadoras’ (lasso weighted down with stones) entered the darkened space and whirled his lasso in an interplay between feet and lasso with unbelievable coordination. A second boleadoras entered the arena, forming a lasso duet, elevating a folk tradition into an Art form through skill and bravado par excellence. Then each dancer had two lassos, competing in strength and power. The whole troupe formed a circle of whirring boleadoras, each giving a virtuoso solo performance in turn. Equally awe-inspiring were the impossibly muscular upper bodies supported by supple, agile legs in high kicks, leaps and turns of eleven dancers as they executed their chorus with meticulous timing to a single drum pattern.
‘Che Malambo’ presented a thrilling, energetic dance and music spectacle, celebrating the unique South American tradition of the ‘gaucho’, with a single dancer galloping across the stage in a compelling show of alpha-male prowess and incessant pounding. ‘Zapeteo, the fast-paced footwork of the gauchos, is inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses in the Pampa region of their native Argentina’.
A microphone signalled the return of the guitarist, this time with a solo folksong in Spanish, and then joined by a second vocalist with his ‘bombo’ in beautiful harmony. Nine dancers appeared, drum sticks aloft, they accompanied their pulsating rhythm by beating the heels of their shoes in a unison percussive symphony, ending with an impressive tableau. The guitar and singing provided melodic relief from purely rhythmic sounds, quickly juxtaposed by a lasso chorus of eight. Two soloists with a lasso in each hand performed a spine-tingling circus trick where fellow dancer between their whirling boleadoras avoided being struck in the face with considerable force. Then three men swung six lassos with startling precision and exhausting energy like red arrow pilots. Building up to a seemingly improvised ending, two dazzling soloists swung lassos in their teeth, whirring and accelerating to a steamy conclusion. A mimed comic masterclass of Malambo featured slapstick humour from the twelve superb virtuosi and brought the grand Finale of power and virile strength, to rapturous applause and yelps from an overwhelmed audience.
Che Malambo may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it leans on repetition for its impressive effect. But it would be hard to leave the theatre without feeling inspired and exhausted by the sheer exuberance and masculine energy of this show.