By Steve Sucato
Though they come from a traditional tango background, Unión Tanguera’s co-artistic directors, Claudia Codega and Esteban Moreno, chose a different path when forming their French-Argentine contemporary tango ensemble in 2002. Instead of trying to make traditional tango more modern, they created a new tango style that blends traditional tango movement with contemporary and modern dance styles. And they married this style to contemporary storylines, music and lighting to create rather unique tango-based dance-theater works, including 2010’s Nuit Blanche (“Sleepless Night”). Unión Tanguera makes its Pittsburgh debut with the show on Sat., March 28, at the Byham Theater.
Presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council, Nuit Blanche is Unión Tanguera’s third full-length work, and it has toured Italy, Austria, France and the Netherlands to critical acclaim. The 90-minute dance-theater piece for seven dancers (four men, three women) is danced to live original compositions by Pedro Onetto, along with traditional tango recordings, all performed by the Onetto-led Quartet Lupanar.
Nuit Blanche’s setting is a cabaret-milonga (nighttime tango club) at the moment that a traditional tango show is ending. Says Moreno, via telephone from London, the show is patterned after “my memories of being in cabarets in Buenos Aires when I was younger. The performers of a tango show would hang around afterwards and mingle and dance with audience members into the night.”
Moreno performs in the work, portraying a singer from another club who comes to visit a friend. For Nuit Blanche, he says, he, Codega and the other dancers have created everyday situations for their characters. Romances take shape, with some couples coming together while others split apart. The emotions run the gamut from loneliness and despair to hope and celebration.
In video excerpts of the work found on the company’s website, Nuit Blanche uses tango as a form of dialogue to tell its story. There is a poeticism to the movement that speaks more to the characters’ feelings than it does to well-crafted choreography. Add the varied and metaphoric use of three beanbag chairs; dancers singing; and the musical heartbeat of Astor Piazzolla-like music driving the action, and you have a work that is as compelling as it is unique.
Unión Tanguera performs Nuit Blanche, 8 p.m. Sat., March 28, Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-55. 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org.
This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper March 25, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.