One rainy evening last January I met with Tiziana Perinotti, a local San Francisco Bay Area artist and tango dancer. She had made a name for herself in the local tango scene in 2014 with an unusual ‘tango musical’ entitled ‘Love Junkies’.
Love Junkies played for three consecutive nights at the American Conservatory Theater’s Costume Shop Theater in downtown San Francisco. All shows were sold out and there was a high demand for more performances. Encouraged by the positive feedback as well as the support of her teachers at the time at the A.C.T., Miss Perinotti was planning to take Love Junkies to more venues. Her goal was for the musical to be performed on Broadway. After its initial success, it looked like Miss Perinotti was well on her way to bigger success. Years of hard work and sacrifice — she had given up her work as an Italian linguist and localization software specialist to pursue her artistic calling — seemed about to pay off. So what happened to Love Junkies after its first successful performances?
As I learned about Miss Perinotti’s unusual artistic path and her tango projects I became curious to find out what had driven her to abandon her daytime job, start an acting career, and produce a costly tango project. But when I tried to arrange an interview, fate intervened — not just once, but repeatedly, and what followed turned into what must now be called Miss Perinotti’s tragedy.
It all began last summer when she was about to renew her efforts to revive her tango musical. She had to rush to Italy to look after her mother who had undergone heart surgery. The recovery did not go as well as she had hoped for, and Miss Perinotti had to extend her stay for another two months. Then disaster struck. The day before she was scheduled to return to California she was run over by a careless bicyclist on a street in Rome. The accident left her severely injured. She recalls losing a lot of blood on the street and being rushed to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with several broken bones and patched up for a fourteen-hour flight back to San Francisco. Not feeling better after her return she went to San Francisco General Hospital, where more fractures were discovered, twelve of them in her face alone. Then, as her fractures began to heal, she found herself struggling with nose bleeding, disabling migraines, and PTSD. Given her state of health and her long absence, acting and modeling jobs were now becoming hard to find, and there was little thought of getting back to her tango musical.
Finally, on that rainy evening in January, we sat facing each other in the lobby of the Sir Francis Drake hotel. Miss Perinotti seemed to have gotten herself together again after her accident a few months before. Her face had regained its natural contours and her skin showed a healthy glow. She was keen and seemed ready to get back to work. She had begun applying for all kinds of jobs to recover from her financial losses in order to pay for her medical bills, and she had also started to pursue her tango project again. In the hope of winning the public’s interest with this story, we concentrated our conversation on the tango musical. So I finally asked her the question that had been on my mind for months: ‘What happened to Love Junkies after its first successful performances? And what drove you to write a so-called ‘tango musical’ in the first place?’
It had started during a visit back home in Italy in the summer of 2008, she recalled. At the time she was fairly new to tango and, like many tango novices, she had become mesmerized by this new world.
“That’s when you have to do things like that, right?” she asked, “— when you’re new to something.” So she wrote down some personal notes on tango, a loose story, just for herself. While writing she had a vision — she confided — about her fellow countrymen a hundred years ago who had gazed over the ocean just like her, dreaming of a better life in Argentina, and who finally travelled to this new promised land where, feeling lonely and longing for their families, they had created a new dance: the tango — the same dance that had captured and consoled her in California. With these parallels in mind, she continued to write.
It was not until a few years later, after she was admitted as a student to San Francisco’s A.C.T., that her acting teacher encouraged her to develop work on her notes and turn them into a play. What had started as a vague idea, a loose draft, eventually turned into a detailed script.
Rather than a succession of danced pieces, such as occur in the Broadway extravaganza Forever Tango, Love Junkies has a storyline. It is a complex tale of several ‘love addicts’ each with different backgrounds, who are struggling with their relationships and their purpose in life. They are all looking for a higher calling by plunging into the seemingly more rewarding world of tango, only to find themselves eventually entangled in new twisted situations and relationships which complicate their lives even further. In this intricate plot, set in San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Rome, real characters and real places are skillfully interwoven with fictional ones. At the center of it all is the story of the last months of a fictional character based on the late tango legend Omar Vega, who passed away in 2008. This character is surrounded by people drawn to tango by Vega’s aura. Vega’s untimely death at age 50 and the sad circumstances surrounding it are just a small part of the musical. In Miss Perinotti’s own words, “Vega is the symbol of all struggling artists who, regardless of their talents and the sacrifices they have made to share their gifts with the rest of the world, are not even given a chance to survive.” The main focus, however, remains on his followers, whose real life issues remain unresolved. As a result Love Junkies does not have a happy ending. It is, rather, a tale of the seductive appeal of tango and the sometimes painful lessons it teaches us.
Miss Perinotti’s story is drawn from the wealth of her own experiences, both as a performer and as a social dancer of tango. In it she addresses many aspects and temptations of this multi-faceted world and describes, very credibly, how it often leads to confusion and misinterpretation. Watching the musical on video recently, it struck me that it was a retelling of a very personal part of her life — as if she had made it her mission to tell everything she had experienced and observed in tango. Not only was she the show’s writer, director, and producer, but she also played one of its lead characters, dancing, singing, and playing the flute on stage — a truly mammoth task. Even the funding for the production of the tango musical, which included renting a rehearsal space week after week as well as the theater for the performances, had come exclusively out of her own pocket. She had selected the cast mainly from the local Bay Area tango community, some of them professional dancers and musicians, others being competitive and high-level dancing amateurs. They did not get paid, but put in a lot of time and effort to make the performance possible.
“So then what happened?” I keep insisting. She shrugged. “Funding dried up.” Having exhausted her own budget at a time when public funding for the arts had become increasingly difficult, she was forced to focus on earning money. For the time being the play had to be put on a backburner.
It must have come as a surprising setback, especially in view of the promising success of another remarkable project she had previously produced. She had made a documentary called ‘T for Tango’ about the first ever official Argentine Tango Championship in the USA organized by the Cultural Department of the City of Buenos Aires, and held in San Francisco in 2011. Over the course of this unique and much-noticed event she interviewed the contestants during the grueling four-day competition and provided interesting insights of the behind-the-scenes-drama and what drives people to put themselves ‘out there’ and take risks.
This highly acclaimed documentary won the 2012 Award Of Merit from the prestigious Accolade Global Film Competition, and was internationally released with Spanish subtitles upon the request of the Cultural Ministry of the City of Buenos Aires. The Swedish Carina Ari Foundation added it to its library for the preservation of future dance research.
Talking about the success of T for Tango and what she had personally learned from talking to the contestants at the time as well as the people behind the scenes, she stated enthusiastically: ‘Follow your dream and you get somewhere!’
In the meantime, as I was struggling to put on paper a story that had deeply affected me, Miss Perinotti suffered another stroke of fate. Her father passed away in Italy and she found herself in the desperate situation of not being able to fly back home for the funeral. Still paying for substantial medical bills from last year, she fell behind with her rent, but she has managed to keep her apartment by depleting her bank account and starting a successful fundraising campaign. She has been applying and interviewing for steady jobs, but has not received an offer despite her good education and experience.
So why does she remain determined to keep pushing for the success of Love Junkies? “It’s my baby,” she replied defiantly. “I’ve taken it that far.” One can only hope that her determination and strength will eventually pay off.
Fotos by Howard Ho, Tiziana Perinotti