Like a duel set to music, the malambo is hard and fast, explosive and competitive, as forceful and graceful as the Argentine cowboys — the legendary gauchos — who have been performing it since the 1600s.
Gilles Brinas, a French choreographer and former ballet dancer, first encountered the malambo in Paris in the 1970s. Deeply taken, he later traveled to Buenos Aires to recruit dancers and work with members of Argentina’s National Folklore Ballet.
The result is Che Malambo, which pays testament to the power, intricacy and furious energy of this most masculine of dance forms. The troupe, which has traveled throughout Europe, Asia and South America since debuting in 2005, is now making its first North American tour.
On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23, Washington University in St. Louis will welcome Che Malambo as part of the Edison Ovations Series.
A symphony of rhythms
Second only to the tango in the Argentine imagination, the malambo was traditionally performed in tournaments by male dancers seeking to display their strength, stamina and skill.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
Brinas, in crafting the evening-length show, has drawn from two distinct malambo styles. The “Northern” malambo is characterized by strength and agility, with dancers performing in tall, thick-heeled leather boots custom made for emphatic stomping.
The “Southern” style, in contrast, is subtler and more introverted, its emphasis on ingenuity and dexterity. Dancers perform in light pony-skin boots that wrap directly to the leg, leaving toes uncovered.
The 90-minute performance features 14 highly trained dancers from across Argentina. Accompanied by booming bombos (large, fat, rustic drums) and twirling boleados (thin leather straps with stones attached to the ends), they unleash an aggressive rhythmic pounding that recalls the galloping of horses across the grassy plains of the South American Pampas.
The Buenos Aires Herald praised Brinas’ choreography for its “ingeniously conceived and brilliantly carried-out figures, ensembles and solos.
“But the main attraction was the dancing,” the Herald added. “At times it was done barefoot … turning the stamping into thumping. And sometimes with no musical backing whatsoever, the music being provided by the grace and power of the bodies moving in a symphony of rhythms.”
Tickets and sponsors
Performances of Che Malambo will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23. Tickets are $36, or $32 seniors, $28 for WUSTL faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.
Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office, located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.; and online, at edison.wustl.edu. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or email email@example.com.
Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors.