An Imaginary History of Tango

Thu 4th – Mon 29th August 2011


Pat Massey

at 11:01 on 28th Aug 2011



The tango, the brooding brother of the Latin dances, elicits much talk about emotion. As one of Anna Cetti's characters says, the tango is not a dance, for “it can only be walked”. But when faced with this tall dark stranger of music, Cetti's mind fills with childlike notions of romance. The result- this show- is one saccharine hour.

What the poster's images don't capture of Cetti is her youth and clear-cut tones: no Spanish gypsy traversing la calle de memorIa here. She captures the awkwardness of her younger disco days well. A Jane Doe introduced to a world of heightened hormones: a formula for classic edutainment. Yet I found Cetti's sense of humour too whimsical. She feels her legs vanish beneath her before her fist dance- cue a picture of disembodied legs frolicking on a hill. What's that? Oh, it's Bridget Jones' lawyers. “We'd also like to discuss a five-minute routine about seeking solace in Jammie Dodgers, ma'am.”

As the show progresses, its appeal to a female audience, however unconscious, becomes clear. The recruitment of a Tango King from the audience is not the stuff of male fantasies, I assure you. Indeed, Cetti's actual imaginary history of tango, a ridiculous take on the Babel story, would test the tolerance of the youngest-hearted women.

But Cetti knows what she's talking about. The culture of the tango hall, 'la milonga', is evoked well. One learns about the rituals and apparatus of the dance, the aspects where where Cetti's props come into their own. The mask on the poster makes an appearance and is even more haunting in the flesh, as it were. And in her final dance we get a overdue sensation of the power of the tango in a nimble solo number. Yet how such emotion can be elicited from strings of horse's hair and such is as much a mystery after meeting Cetti as it was before. Cetti confirms what we knew about the tango, rather than enhancing our fascination with some 'did you know...?'s, or featuring more of the music itself. The abstracts for which theatre reviews deal with are out in tenfold in music. Nothing and no-one can define music better than music itself: it needs the breathing-space to weave its magic.

The post-show offer of fliers for tango lessons is a nice touch. If Anna Cetti is your teacher, take her dance class. Just be more restrained about her show.


Xandra Burns

at 11:54 on 28th Aug 2011



The audience occupies cozy velvet-cushioned seats in a small black box theatre, facing what appears to be a standard chair with a couple of pairs of shoes beneath it. The sole performer, Anna Cetti, enters the room unceremoniously and starts right into a stream of timid conversational rambling, spoken barely loud enough to hear. She exudes awkwardness and nervousness, even giving a slight nod to latecomers indicating that they can sit down, but these prove to be deliberate in-character details, rather than acting blunders. Cetti speaks to the audience, occasionally asking rhetorical questions and improvising to accommodate her viewers' reactions. Her character is a normal, endearing, JD (that’s “jammie dodger”)-loving geek trying to figure out what to do with herself, and she finds direction to her confusion through learning to tango.

There is never a dull moment in her show, as she is aided by sound and video clips invoking an Amelié-worthy tribute to the sweet pleasure of everyday life. A glowstick, a men’s suit jacket, various pairs of shoes, and impressive utilization of velcro create an assortment of characters and scenes. Cetti invites the audience to assist her, in particular selecting a man to play the “tango king,” politely forcing him to volunteer with help from a Mexican toy called an “atrapa novios” (“boyfriend catcher”).

The show remains a story about dancing rather than a dance show itself, focusing on the sentiments rather than the physical actions of tango. As a solo artist performing a dance made for two, Cetti provides individual perspective on the beautiful coordination we witness performed in pairs.

Cetti’s performance balances humor and intensity with grace; whenever a moment becomes heated, she slips in a punchline that restores a light-hearted tone, allowing profound messages to unfold just in time to snap back to reality, never taking herself too seriously.

Tango is used as a metaphor for falling in love, or simply the joys of companionship. It is, as she says, a dance that “can only be walked, together.” Her Imaginary History of Tango also reflects on the romanticized stories we create to explain beginnings, even if they didn’t quite happen the way we have chosen to remember them.

As the subtitle indicates, An Imaginary History of Tango is “an invitation,” not an obligation. Infectiously charming, Cetti encourages the audience to release preconceptions of pressure and unease, to be brave and give tango, life, love, a chance.


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