German Cornejo, dancer, choreographer, and the artistic director of the critically acclaimed production Tango Fire, shares his passion for dance and life in this interview with Aparna Halpé. Tango Fire opens at the Winter Garden Theater in Toronto on November 9th.
AH: Can you describe your first experience of tango?
GC: I remember it like it was yesterday. My family listened to tango at home. That came from my grandparents, they were tango dancers. I started in a funny way because I was trying to copy the steps from the old tango dancers when I was alone at my room (in my mind, I thought that those movements that I did were tango steps) and when my mom saw me she took me to tango lessons in my city. At first, I felt so shy to meet new people ( I was 10 years old) but after the first lesson I felt in love with the tango.
AH: You have a long history in tango performance. What inspired you to become a director?
GC: I studied all my life, and that gave me the tools to build my own tango style. I continue studying all the things that I feel are necessary to increase my performance. My knowledge enriches me in an artistical way, and at the same time helps me grow as a human being.
The thing that I love about being a director is that I can show an audience my vision about these things. I have the posibility to express my own ideas, present a whole concept, and develop it in a deep way. I put all of myself into creating different pieces, moments, and I introduce the audience to different worlds full of magic and sensitivity. I am an extreme perfectionist, and I feel a fullness when all the elements of a performance are exactly like what I visualized inside my mind. My motto is “nothing is imposible.” I think each detail through, not just the steps, or the music, but also the emotions, the lights, the climax in each piece, the interpretation of each artist. All of those aspects allow us to create an incredible show, full of art from the begining until the end. When I have an idea in mind, I put my best forward to make it real.
My first time in the role of director was when I was 16 years old, and I was directing my own company “Sentimientos Tangueros” which won a lot of awards, and performed in front of important personalities from around the world, including the President of Vietnam. After that, I have experimented with the role of director and choreographer in different companies and ballets. The posibility of creating different worlds and giving life to new characters is a wonderful thing.
I really love my job!
AH: Throughout your career, you have worked with some of the legends of tango, for example, Maestro Berlingieri, and Nélida Rodrìguez. How does the idea of tradition in tango communicate to you?
GC: One of the first great artists who showed confidence in my work was Nélida Rodrìguez. She saw me dancing in the highest rated TV show in Argentina hosted by Susana Gimenez, and she asked the producers of the show for my phone number. After that, people started to know my work and profesionalism (even though I was a young dancer) and in a short time they started to call me to work with them.
AH: Can you tell us about the birth of Tango Fire?
GC: The Tango Fire Company of Buenos Aires was formed in 2005 with it’s premier in Singapore in April of that year. The idea was simple and consistent. We wanted to show the world one of the most exiting dance forms of all time: Tango.
In August 2005 the show was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was highly successful, resulting in engagements in the most prestigious venues around the world. This led to the company touring extensively over the last 8 years.
AH: You have a long professional relationship with Gisela Galeassi. How do you complement each other artistically?
GC: Gisela is an amazingly talented dancer, a lovely woman and friend. We have a great relationship not just on the stage, but also behind the scenes. Both of us are very passionate dancers and perfectionists in our dance techniques, this makes us strive, always, to give the best ever. She inspires me all the time with her attitude, her dance lines and technique, and at the same time with her power, precision and passion. She is the authentic Argentinean woman. I fell in love with her – in an artistic way – since the day that I first met her. Our roles in the dance are very defined. She put all of her femininity on the stage, and I, on the other hand, am this rude boy, embracing her in a passionate way, sometimes romantic, sometimes with warm sensuality.
On the stage we show the audience our romance of 3 minutes, revealing to them, through our bodies, the secrets of this intimate and passionate dance, the tango.
AH: You are known for fostering the creative talents of your company. For example, your dancers are encouraged to contribute to the choreography of a piece. Can you tell us more about this process?
GC: Yes, in the company I’m the Director of Choreography, so as you know, part of my work is to give the artistic direction to the show, the storyline, besides creating the group choreographies. When choreographing for duos, each couple has the freedom to create their own choreographies. Of course, they always work on the theatrical idea that I give them. But this is just an initial position with some special lights, well-defined characters, and the additional characterization created from the style of each costume, and, in some cases, different kinds of movements, etc.
But the steps and combinations are always created by them. This approach to creation allows them to show their talents in a full way.
AH: The music of tango, like the dance, is constantly evolving. But in almost every tango show, we encounter the same references – Piazzolla, Pugliesi, D’Arienzo, and of course, La Cumparsita. Can you describe some of your musical choices to us?
GC: I chose for Tango Fire, “Flames of Desire,” an exquisite selection from great composers and the greatest tango hits of all time, like Troilo, Matos Rodriguez, Laurenz and Mores, but at the same time including new pieces that represent the reality of the actual society, from contemporary composers such as Piazzolla and Lisandro Adrover.
Some of the tangos that we dance, play and sing in Act I are the classics like ‘Quejas de Bandoneon’ (Troilo), ‘A Los Amigos’ (Pontier), ‘Tanguera’ (Mores), ‘Chique’ (Brignolo), ‘Ventarron’ (Maffia). These tangos represent the golden era of tango. And there are the classic milongas ‘Milonga de Mis Amores’ (Laurenz), ‘Milonga que Peinas Canas’ (Gomez), ‘El Firulete’ (Mores) and ‘La Trampera’ (Troilo).
The opening of Act II has the most classic piece of tango, the famous ‘La Cumparsita’ (Matos Rodriguez). Then, we continue with great pieces like ‘Patetico’ (Caldara), ‘Derecho Viejo’ (Arolas) and ‘Gallo Ciego’ (Bardi).
In this act, we also have many incredible contemporary pieces from Astor Piazzolla, one of the most influential composers of the new generation of musicians. ‘Otoño Porteño’, ‘La Muerte del Angel’, ‘Oblivion’, ‘Libertango’, ‘Verano Porteño,’ and, maybe the most gorgeous piece from him, ‘Adios Nonino.’ Also, we have the amazing and melancholic version of ‘Vuelvo al Sur’ (Piazzolla) by the voice of Jesus Hidalgo, and a wonderful version of ‘Susu’ (Adrover).
Each song was selected because it represents differents states of mood, as well different temperaments and emotions, and each piece represents a mini drama, a short history that submerges the audience in different faces of the human condition.
AH: Historically speaking, the tango show brought an idea of Argentina to the world; an idea that is based on the music, the dance, and the aesthetic of tango. But within tango there was always the reference to other kinds of realities like economic depression, the sublimation of poverty, the divide between the rich and the poor. How do these elements find themselves into your artistic vision?
GC: I develop these elements in an artistic and subjective way in the show. In each number you can see different periods of the tango ages (from the arrival of the immigrants in the early 20th century to the 21st century) and a variety of social realities depending on each age. You can see the ways that people tried to have fun at begining of the century, playing or dancing in the backyards of their homes, or in the ‘conventillos’ (a kind of building with apartments that was typical in the early 20th century) where the immigrants lived. You have the same dangerous feel of women in the dark streets of our times with bad boys trying harass them to get their bodies.
I have tried to develop each social element with a lot of care and a strong artistic taste, keeping always the subtlety and delicacy, but at the same time, the “contundent” – the strength.
AH: Your company travels the world, you play to packed audiences in London and Shanghai. Do you think that tango has, perhaps, evolved into a global phenomenon? Can you share some of your experiences with bringing Tango Fire to new places and new people?
GC: Yes, in my opinion, tango has become in a global phenomenon, with a massive expansion that has happened because of the media. Today there a lot of tango academies around the world, and each time there are more people that feel caught by the tango. It is a worldwide phenomenon; it has even been declared a “World Heritage” by UNESCO for its massive expansion and its universal way of communication.
All of my experiences were incredible in each country that we visited with Tango Fire. The audiences love the tango, and they love the show. Many times, we received flowers after the performance, and sometimes during the performance, the audience came right up to the stage, bringing roses to our hands. It is amazing to feel the love from them.
From the premiere of Flames of Desire, in London, all the performances have ended with standing ovations from our audiences, and this happens again after we do the encore! Really, this speaks to our souls. The moment on the stage after we perform, when people give us a standing ovation, it is so magical because we work so hard to be there and give the best of ourselves each night.
We are so glad to share our passion with different cultures in different countries. We really love life on the stage, and living on the stage is all that we have.The stage is our passion. The tango is our life.