Glamour in the Province

On a recent hot summer night an almost surreal scene presents itself in the upstate New York hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson. Nestled among the tall trees and wide meadows of Bard College — a small exclusive private liberal arts and science school — appears a huge construction called the Spiegeltent (translated as “Mirror Tent”). This large traveling tent, constructed of wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, arrives every summer at this otherwise quiet and isolated campus, and becomes the stylish setting for exotic cabaret shows, live Jazz concerts, and dance events.

From early July through mid-August the Spiegeltent — a more familiar sight throughout Europe as well as in cities such as Las Vegas and San Francisco where it was used by Teatro ZinZanni — draws an astonishing number of people, not only from nearby smaller towns and surrounding rural areas, but also from as far away as Massachusetts and New York City. As it does tonight.

It is Total Tango night, and the stars of the evening are none other than Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne. The self-proclaimed creator of Nuevo Tango himself and his partner, along with another well-known Tango celebrity, harmonica player Joe Powers, are bringing some world-class Tango and glamour to this secluded and tranquil corner of the world.

This rare appearance of these famous Tangueros in the Hudson Valley has drawn a sizeable crowd from many smaller Tango communities in the wider area of upstate New York and Massachusetts. It is astonishing, but not unusual, for Tango aficionados in this area to drive several hours to attend an event, a workshop, or a milonga. But there are also many others, absolutely new to Tango, who are curious to find out what the hype is all about.

To someone visiting from a big and active Tango community, where on any given day an interesting event happens just around the corner, it seems quite astonishing and even a bit bizarre that a Tango legend such as Naveira would make an appearance at an off-the-map location like Bard College in upstate New York. Why, they might wonder, would someone like Naveira, who has performed and taught all over the world, make an appearance in provincial New York?

These days Tango is going through a huge revival, spreading everywhere, and not just in the United States. The organizers of the Spiegeltent shows — the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard — have long understood that, and Total Tango is now one of their most popular events. Thanks to Chungin Goodstein, who teaches Tango in the area and has been an admirer of Naveira ever since taking her first lesson with him in Buenos Aires, they have managed to get the couple to commit for a full evening of lecturing, teaching, and performing.

It should be noted, however, that Tango at the Spiegeltent has not been a blank piece of paper for other professional Tango instructors. This annual event has become quite famous, and has benefited the reputation of several other great Tangueros who have also performed here.

It all started when Ilene Marder, Tango DJ and organizer from nearby Woodstock, approached the organizers of the Spiegeltent shows some years ago with the idea of adding Tango to their program. Marder, who is highly regarded in Tango communities from New York City to Boston and beyond, as well as in Buenos Aires, invited Tango dancers such as Junior Cervila, Cristian Correa and Angeles Chañahato, Michael Nadtochi and Michelle Erdemsel, to perform at the Spiegeltent. Based in New York City, these dancers appreciated a visit to the country where an expectant audience would be awaiting. Now, with Ilene Marder’s schedule having become too busy to handle the event, Chungin Goodstein has taken over for the time being.

After an unremarkable start with a lecture about the history of Tango, this evening slowly gets into gear. Then it is time for the much anticipated lesson with the masters. But, to my surprise, it turns into a bit of a challenge: with over eighty people on the dance floor, including novices and advanced dancers bumping into each other and stepping on each others’ toes, it is difficult to get the class organized. I’m amused to notice that Naveira and Anne are struggling for a moment with the overwhelming crowd and the mix of different levels. They finally decide to do what seems to be best for both beginners and advanced dancers: teach the basics. But by the time they reach the point of introducing the basic cross, most of the newcomers are lost — and the dance floor has become a chaotic mass of confused legs and feet.

I decide not to watch any longer. I head for the counter, where since most people are now on the dance floor the line is short, and order dessert. Here I learn from the organizer that all two hundred and fifty tickets have been sold. I can’t help but think of organizers in places like San Francisco or New York where, despite a large number of dancers in the community, they have been struggling to fill up their events because so many more Tango venues have popped up. With so much competition in these places, an attendance of two hundred and fifty is almost unheard of.

When the dancing finally begins and Joe Powers — accompanied by a nice ensemble of Bard’s music students — takes the stage to charm the audience with his peerless harmonica playing, it seems that the evening is about to reach its climax. And then, after so much waiting and anticipation, Naveira and Anne walk onto the dance floor. Their performance is the ultimate reward. The seeming lightness of their dancing, the precision of their technique, and the charm of their demonstration are unprecedented. It is a glimpse of world-class Tango in this small hamlet in the Hudson Valley.

Video by Evelyn Meier:

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