The tango is arguably one of the most popular dances worldwide.
According to music historian and ethnomusicologist Chris Goertzen, “Over a century after its gestation in the slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the tango has become a global music…it is global in the most literal sense of geographic reach, flourishing in Buenos Aires and Tokyo, in Saigon and Durban, in small towns in Scandinavia and in the U.S.” (1)
Sergio Alessandro Buslje, artistic director and conductor of the Pan American Symphony Orchestra, agrees. For the last decade, he has been capitalizing on that popularity with the D.C. Tango Festival, which weaves together multiple manifestations of the tango as an art form and presents it to tango lovers in the D.C. metro area.
The festival includes free tango dance lessons at the Argentinean embassy, film screenings that showcase the tango in Argentinean films, and a capstone show featuring performances by tango dancers from around the world.
Maestro Buslje brings a unique angle to the finale performance, this year dubbed Tango Mania. While tango dance festivals are occurring with increasingly regularity around the country, Buslje places great emphasis on one element often underplayed or simply overlooked in the growing myriad of dance-focused performances: the music itself.
The music accompanying the dancers during the performance will be played by the Pan American Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra, founded by Buslje himself, was the first of its kind in the United States to focus solely on Latin American music.
Buslje explains that while most tango festivals in the U.S. add music as an afterthought, often in recorded form, he envisions the music itself at the forefront of the performance. The glue that holds it together.
And as popular as the dance of the tango is, the music is equally as flexible. While traditional tango orchestras in Argentina generally consist of 4 bandoneons (concertinas that originated in Germany and that translated into tango accompaniment instruments during the early 20th century), 4 violins, a viola, a cello, a bass and a piano, Buslje searches for arrangements (and sometimes even creates his own) specifically for his 30+ piece string symphony.
The musical results breathe a sense of energy and life into the dance.
Tickets are on sale now for the Tango Mania performance, which is scheduled for May 5 at the GW Lisner Auditorium in D.C.
The D.C. Tango Festival runs through the entire month of April. Free tango lessons are offered each Wednesday evening at the Argentinain Embassy (open to the public by reservation), and a series of film screenings are scheduled at the Embassy as well.
(1) “Globalization and the Tango”. Chris Goertzen and María Susana Azzi. Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 31, (1999), pp. 67-76.