Dance: What five years can do to passion

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TANGO PASION, in London for 10 weeks, has a slick title, except it could be misread as Tango Poison. In fact I rather prefer the alternative, not because I dislike tango - quite the opposite - but because after five years on the global road, this touring version of a Broadway show looks tired.

The opening-night audience went wild, yet we have seen the same formula done better by others. No number of torrid couples can conceal Mel Howard's loose structure, the only unifying thread a thinly etched chronology that jumps suddenly from the turn of this century to imprecise modern time. Not even the sets, derived from Ricardo Carpani's distinctive paintings of earthily muscular figures, can compensate for the monotony of Hector Zaraspe's choreography which fails to exploit tango's variety. Instead, Zaraspe tries to inject diversity by freeing up the grammar of tango with broader dance ideas, which would be fine if they weren't so trite, and by introducing flatly boring unison ensembles.

I love the flicking legs of Argentinian tango, their sexy zigzagging like forked lightning and millimetre synchronism; I can thrill to the accelerating steps, stitching lace-patterns that visualise the music's indented melodic line and relentless rhythms. But because these couples and their dances lack individuality, they tend to dissolve into a blur, especially the men who don't have the advantage of sensational glittery frocks. Pilar Alvarez and Claudio Hoffman demand attention with their unusual duet: she flung acrobatically into the air, and beginning and ending as a stark silhouette of long hair and legs stretched over his knees. The men's dance with billiard cues is clever, except that it fizzles out before going anywhere; while the moments of interplay between performers, no sooner introduced than dropped, contribute to the discontinuity.

The singer Guillermo Galve does not have enough songs; but otherwise the music is the evening's treat, provided by the Sexteto Mayor Orchestra and guest musicians. Jose Libertella, composer and co-music director with Luis Stazo, has a craggy face so familiar from visits with previous tango companies, he's like an old friend.

Sitting playing the bandonen, he occasionally gives way to little extravagances, such as throwing the instrument up in the air. Then, just for the hell of it, he and Luis Stazo stagger up to place a foot on their chair and rest their bandonens on their knee. This is music that you want not only to listen to, but also to watch.

Nadine Meisner

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