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Malambo Madness, Part II: In the Rockaways

In my last post, I described New Directions' improbable trip to rural Argentina to witness the dance at the heart of Leila Guerriero’s US debut, A Simple Story. This month, malambo came to us. Or at least as close as the Rockaways, where dance troupe Che Malambo performed on Saturday at Kingsborough Community College.

Malambo can be tricky to explain. “It’s an Argentine folk dance,” you could say, “with a lot of intense tapping, kind of like Riverdance, but, uh, with gauchos?”

If the dance needs a more articulate ambassador, Che Malambo is it.

The troupe blends elements of modern dance and ballet with malambo’s traditional forms, stripped down and introduced one by one: the bombo, or drum that provides the rhythm; the duelists, two men in boots staring each other down as they trade filigree tap sequences like cutting retorts; more dancers, along with guitar, bolas, and singing, until fourteen pairs of heels are pounding the stage.

The creative director, French choreographer Gilles Brinas, came across the dance in Paris in the '70s. An Argentine friend took him to a cabaret to see a four-man malambo group, which performed for ten minutes. One morning, three years later, he woke up and said to himself: “I must do malambo!” He sold his studio and got to work. His friends thought he’d gone crazy.

Maybe. But Argentine author and journalist Leila Guerriero tells a weirdly similar tale in the first pages of A Simple Story—she traveled to a malambo festival on a whim, thinking she’d write a small piece on it, and was so blown away by one dancer—Rodolfo González Alcántara—that she had no choice but to write an entire book.

“That Friday night, Rodolfo González Alcántara moved to the center of the stage like a hurricane-force gale, like a puma, like a stag, like a robber of souls, and he remained nailed to the spot for two or three beats, his brow furrowed, staring at something that no one else could see. The first movement of his legs made his cribo tremble like a soft sea creature rocked by the waves. Then, for four minutes and fifty-two seconds, he made the night crackle with his blows.”

The dance, little known but gaining notoriety, doesn’t attract fans: it breeds converts, fanatics. If you’re not careful, you might become one of them.

Che Malambo: http://www.chemalambolive.com/

-- Chris Wait, 2017

Quotation from A Simple Story, by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle, copyright © 2013 by Leila Guerriero, translation copyright © 2017 by Frances Riddle. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. Photo courtesy of Che Malambo.