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Mila Gorokhovich
Performance Reviews
West Coast Swing
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Helen Hayes Theatre Company

The Swango Marvel!

by Mila Gorokhovich
June 21, 2003
Helen Hayes Theatre Company
Westwood Area
Nyack, NY 10960
(845) 358-6065

The Swango Marvel!

June 7- 22, 2003
Helen Hayes Theatre Company - Nyack, New York

Review by Mila Gorokhovich
June 21, 2003

Tony Stimac, artistic director of the Helen Hayes Theatre Company, quotes lyrics from an old song, "Life's a dance, you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow." Many of us can relate to this perspective and indeed, dance is a universal form of emotion and communication that often expresses typical "real life" feelings. The production of Swango that performed in the distinguished Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, Rockland County, presented a clever visual that exemplifies the very point of the above quote. Not only did it incorporate a hot combination of swing and argentine tango, but it also told a story; Each group (tango and swing) wanted to be the leader, take the spotlight and show the other that they were the best. The ultimate effect revealed exciting elements of both dances and a life-applicable moral.

Conceived and choreographed by Mariela Franganillo and Robert Royston, Swango opens up with a scene at "The Warehouse", a typical dance club and bar. The witty narrator of the entire performance is the Bartender, whose humor provides some spontaneous comic relief during the show. The tango dancers appear in traditionally familiar black evening wear, with sensual, glaring looks meant to intimidate and capture on the spot, while the swing dancers show up in casual jeans, shirts and toned-belly bearing hot tops. The latter acting as if they could care less about those daring fiery glares from the tango crowd. Both groups show off their stuff to beloved tunes of Bette Midler, Astor Piazzolla, George Benson and the Gotan Project. However, they do not dance in peaceful harmony for long. When swing dancer Cash (Robert Royston) lays his eyes on the deliciously beautiful Argentine tango princess Mariela (Mariela Franganillo), hostility breaks out and tango bandleader Junior (Antonio Cervila Jr.) confronts Cash with jealous anger. Meanwhile, Cash's girlfriend Nicki (and real-life wife Nicola Royston) makes him choose between her and Mariela and ultimately leaves him. Fighting at the club continues and the bartender attempts to break it up by allowing only the girls to dance, putting on hip funky French music (Una Musica Brutale - Gotan Project) and eventually, not letting anyone dance at all, even though a couple swings into motion anyway. Eventually, a member of Junior's tango group uses the bartender's gun to shoot Cash in order to defend Junior. At this point, there is a wave of silence and the bartender discloses how such bitter sorrow can be created from a joyous activity like dancing. Although what really instigated the cold murder were emotions of possessiveness, suspicion and envy. These emotions often overtake us in real life and we often don't realize their impact until something so terrible occurs. As in Othello and Carmen, the jealous man in Swango - Junior- regretted the act. But unlike most other stories, it turned out that the gun was a fake and Cash pretended to be dead. The story ends happily, with the forbidden lovers finally coming out together in the open and both groups dance in unison, relieved and blissful.

The dancers in Swango were chosen from a wide international arena and each is a renowned expert in his/her field. Many have performed in Swing! On Broadway, Forever Tango and other highly acclaimed shows. But what was most impressive was how they were all able to dance both - the tango and swing - without appearing awkward or sloppy. Both dances are very different from one another and getting the dynamics of the signature ochos in Argentine tango or the chicken walks and lifts in swing are complicated. But these are professionals and they definitely proved this in the performance. Laureen Baldovi and Ronnie DeBenedetta excelled in the swing category in terms of cleanliness and technique as well as excitement and everlasting energy. While the three-person swing/hustle dance to melodic Chains was sexy, it involved a bit too much repetitive butt swinging and shaking. When the Machismo! Or masculine pride part came up, Junior and Cash had it out in the middle in an evil fervor. Cervila Jr. was very impressive and obviously highly talented in the tango. The lifts and quick movements throughout both the tango and swing dances were eye-boggling and revealed Royston's and Franganillo's unique and creative sense for style and motion. In fact, their passionate dance as two secret lovers was beautifully choreographed and expressive even though throughout the performance, Franganillo's facial expression illustrated somewhat painful emotions.

Another unique element of the choreography was that it included not only swing and tango, but also innovative components of the Viennese Waltz, rumba, hustle, Lindy Hop and even ballet. Rapid turns by both groups were a signature of the performance and the imaginative choreography gave the constant feeling of excitement throughout the 1 hr 30 minute show. The company dance to Una Musica Brutal by Gotan Project was my personal favorite not only because the song itself is superb but also because it is a challenge to dance to the distinctive funk and hip hop beats of the modern Parisian tango group. It was a true highlight of the show that demonstrated the remarkable talents of the choreographers and the dancers.

While I aspire that Swango will hit the vast Broadway stage in the near future, I enjoyed that fact that it has been taking place in smaller venues like the Helen Hayes theatre and Swing 46. It is especially important to have electrifying shows like this in areas where dancing is not a supreme activity as it is in artistic-infected places like New York City. Swango has probably inspired many, dancers and non-dancers alike via its colorful choreographic mix that is both delightful and inventive. Royston and Franganillo have established a revolutionary example that sets the stage for a variety of artistic surprises in the future.

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