IT IS astonishing how quickly old
shows can be revived in the theatre of memory. The news that the
Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzolla, the inventor of the "new tango",
will have his music played in London next month by former members of his
band, raised recollection curtains on a dramatic dancing episode in my
life about which I have, until now, remained silent.
Piazzolla, who died in 1992, and
is lauded by growing numbers in the classical world as one of the last
centuryís greatest contemporary composers, be-came a virtuoso on a
curious 19th century German instrument called the bandoneon, an
overgrown squeeze-box, and based his revolutionary music on the tango
combined with jazz and classical styles.
The compositions enraged
Argentinians. They defied, fumed the La Mancha newspaper in 1961, "a
traditional establishment" greater than the state, the gaucho and
soccer. "He has dared to challenge the tango."
Here, I have a link with Piazzolla.
I, too, challenged the tango and lasted several rounds with one of its
most fluent practitioners in the vibrant, moving-and-shaking, electoral
constituency of Edinburgh West.
Recently, I wrote about my dancing
days at the now-defunct Plaza and other Edinburgh pagodas of rhythmic
courtship rituals, but these were often unsatisfactory episodes for me,
the dancing resembling a slow-moving maelstrom with no chance to try the
exhibition paso doble, especially if the band was playing a waltz, or
attempt a double-spin, quarter-turn, backward lockstep if oneís partner
was concentrating on getting her feet out of the way quicker than I
could step on them.
While my dancing has been likened
to South American Indians attacked by soldier ants, some of my partners
moved like well-upholstered pneumatic drills or mad butterflies, and I
longed for the polished elegance and rhythmic perfection of Fred Astaire
dancing chic-to-chic with Ginger Rogers.
For high-class hoofing, the tango
was recommended; a dance to lighten the feet, stir the pulse and quicken
the breath as performed by silent-movie star, Rudolph Valentino, and
other Latin lads with flashing eyes and masterful scowls.
So, I went to Miss C, who ran a
dancing tuition establishment that featured a sub-Versailles Palace hall
of mirrors in which I could surrealistically see a dozen versions of
myself gazing pallidly into the distance.
Miss C had a faint air of sadness,
like a Christina Rossetti poem, possibly caused by trying to get tango
tyros to move with Latin-like fluidity. She, herself, did not so much
dance as stream, her slender, six-feet-tall body balancing with balletic
poise on high heels. When standing against the sun, it was as if a halo
shone all round her body. And this was 1950s Edinburgh, the era in which
young lovers gave tokens of their trust in acid drops and soor plooms.
For trial gallops, she wafted
rather than placed me for basic steps and I found, from my five feet,
four inches position that, when she raised her finely-chiselled head,
ecstatically acknowledging the musicís siren seductiveness, I could see
right up her nostrils.
All that was exotic enough for a
simple Edinburgh lad in tweed sports jacket and oblong-shaped flannel
trousers, but when she revealed that the tango was a musical expression
of passion, possibly originating from knife-fights between Italian
immigrants to South America and first heard in Buenos Aires bordellos, I
realised that I was out of my dancing depths.
She urged abandonment of myself to
the musicís sensualities while flashing my eyes, but all I could produce
was a glum glint, although I scowled a lot. When I once clutched her
tempestuously, like Piazzolla with his squeeze-box, she coolly
disentangled herself, dancing at armís length while the progressive side
step progressed. Then, I decided to challenge everything the tango
represented and moved morally with a steamrollerís grinding grace, an
action that Miss C decided dismissively was not only against the spirit
of the tango but Argentina itself.
I did learn some spasmodic steps
in which I and partners made linked, rhythmic leaps, they with startled
faun expressions and I, concentrating on gloom, but, as a tango stepper,
I stumbled dismally. When I asked a lass to hazard herself with me,
tango-wise, choice-foolish, at Edinburghís illustrious Palais dance
hall, she gear-changed her chewing-gum expertly into neutral and
In my memory theatre, for that
show, itís curtains.