Drunk on Tango in Argentina

By Kim Knode

Award-winning filmmaker, Adam Boucher declares, “I like to make documentaries like Tango: The Obsession as a discovery process which I can share with the audience.” Apparently audiences take pleasure in exploring subjects such as tango in Argentina together with Boucher. After a showing at the Smithsonian Institute in 1999, the Argentine Embassy was moved to declare Boucher’s documentary, “a significant film.” (Also, in the April of 2001, a representative from Jungle Films reports that recently a request for two thousand video versions of the film came in from Germany.)

The 1999 Marin County Film Festival also acknowledged the significance of the “Tango” and awarded Boucher first place. In the same year, at an Orlando, Florida film festival, despite the sold-out performances, Tango: The Obsession took second place. (The opinion poll after each screening may have influenced the ranking.)

The thirty-something director shifts his slight five-foot nine frame in a black easy chair as he starts to tell me about Orlando. (Outside, the twilight shadows fall on the streets of Santa Monica.) Inside my brightly lit office, I can see Boucher slightly blush. He grins and his green eyes flash as he confesses; “I got in an argument with a guy in the audience about tango.”

Boucher strikes me as a sweet, mild-mannered man. (He chose Argentine tango as a topic for his first film because he wanted to learn about the dance that “made my mom’s life happier and better.”  Boucher also dedicated the movie to his mother.) So I am momentarily surprised by a streak of the confrontational in Boucher. But then I remember that everyone has an opinion about the Argentine dance. (Not one dancer that Boucher interviews in Tango: The Obsession is neutral on the subject.)

Carlos Copello of The Tango Lesson (film) and Forever Tango (stage) fame compares tango to a drug.  In Boucher’s documentary, the Nureyev of tango mimes a drug addict shooting up. “It’s like you start to give yourself tango injections – continuous tango injections,” he says.

Despite the best efforts of his teacher, Boucher did not get addicted to the Argentine dance.  His  instructor?  Ten-year old, Geraldine Rejas, (featured in the film) started lessons at age four.

“Why did you choose a child?” I ask.

“She picked me,” he replies. “Geraldine was a good teacher. And there wasn’t the sexual tension of being in the arms of a woman.” He explains that tango with contemporaries is a little intimidating. “I mean what usually takes two or three dates (in North America)…You’re doing on the dance floor!”

Seduction and sexual tension is a part of the tango.  However, Boucher and his movie embrace a larger truth about the scintillating dance. “It is like a meditation,” says the documentary filmmaker. “There is no talking. And you can almost hear each other’s heart beat.” Boucher takes a sip of water and continues, “I experienced many of my ‘moments’ (of epiphany) dancing to “La Mariposa” – “The Butterfly” by Osvaldo Pugliese.”

“I get transformed because I get absorbed in what I’m doing. I don’t think about this or that. I just think about what I’m doing,” is how Margarita in Tango answers Boucher’s questions about the impact of the Latin dance on her life.

The swarthy, middle-aged Margarita matter-of-factly states in the film: “I was taught to dance by my mom’s brother.” (When she was six and seven years of age, she practiced her steps with a broomstick.)

Another lady in her forties, Boucher interviews in Tango: The Obsession whispers that daughters from good homes were not permitted to attend the late night tangos. So the younger girls picked up steps from older cousins. And then practiced with one another at home.

Besides the class restrictions to enter the milongas (dance salons), in tango’s earlier days in Argentina, only adults were allowed in. One man with a huge smile and gaps between his teeth sips espresso and elaborates on the details of his youth with delight into Boucher’s camera. He speaks of sneaking in with other little boys to watch Argentina’s experts twist, tangle and turn with ladies in stiletto heels. “We would hide and then do what they did.” (His initial tango training also started at home with older relatives.)

Thanks to his dancing mother’s connections to Copello, Boucher was granted entrance and access into the authentic (no-tourists-type) Argentine tango clubs.  However, all the credit goes to Boucher for his ability to create intimate conversations on camera while delving into the heart of the tango dancer.

He tells me he spent hours “hanging out” with lovers of tango to gain their trust. (In and out of the dance halls, time was spent munching media lunas (a half moon croissant) and downing “watered down versions of Italian espresso.”) He says, “In Argentina, it is common to share espresso with a fellow tanguero. In fact, they drink one after another.” Boucher states, “I am not particularly a coffee man. However, friends are treated like family. And quality time like drinking a coffee together is cherished.”  The filmmaker smiles and says, “So under those conditions how could someone not love coffee?”

Boucher may also have needed the extra boost from the caffeine. It is evident that the director did hours of homework on the history of the dance. Countless frames of black and white footage and sepia tone prints illustrate the emergence of tango. In addition, interviews with historians illuminate the beginnings of Argentine tango.  (Boucher’s clips with the so-called intellectuals of society – the historians – also take on the tone of a friendly chat on a street corner.)

One of the attention-grabbing moments of Tango: The Obsession was the proclamation that Italian immigrants were instrumental in the development of the dance.  Photos of the European men arriving in Argentina – a land of opportunity – exemplify some of the strains of melancholy, which filtered into the tango.

Tango: The Obsession demonstrates that Italians were not the only ones who needed a dance to deal with the blues. The early blacks of South America, the solitary gaucho, the stressed out citizen living in a high-tech society are all featured in the film.  Boucher’s probing camera lens provides insight (with his interviews and photographs) into why tango becomes an obsession. He gives us a glimpse into the lives of tango dancers who answer the call to touch and hear each other’s heart beat.

To order the film in VHS or PAL format or simply to learn more about Tango: The Obsession:
On the web: go to http://www.tangovideos.com/ or Amazon.com. You can also directly contact the distributor, Jungle Films: Jungle Films 11271 Ventura Boulevard, PMB512 Studio City, CA 91604 Tel: 818-771-8668 Fax: 818-753-8305

Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.

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