Arts dance review

The artistry of the Malambo is stunning

Che Malambo delivers a spectacular performance from its talented dancers

8117 dance
Che Malambo presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston at the Boch Shubert Theatre.
Robert Torres

Che Malambo
Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston
Directed by Gilles Brinas
Mar. 31, 2017 and Apr. 1, 2017
Boch Center Shubert Theatre

It is no surprise the Malambo attracted French choreographer Gilles Brinas. The Malambo, a traditional Argentinian folk dance known for its percussive footwork, celebrates the gaucho (cowboy) tradition in an artful portrayal. Brinas traveled to Buenos Aires seeking this folk dance, later founding the dance company Che Malambo with Malambo dancers from the region.

To say their agility and dexterity are impressive is an understatement. In this dance, the human body becomes a mode of art, transforming from the rough clanking of percussive drums and boots to choreographed sways and interweaving lines of dancers. Despite its rigid percussive foundations, the dance is elegant, composed of circular and fluid motions.

Brooding silhouettes of 14 men appear as harsh lights flash behind them. In stylized choreographed movements, the drummers beat their bombos and dance and move on the stage. Heeled flamenco style boots clatter on the floor in rapidfire patterns. What appear to be random motions soon form patterns: two lines of dancers face each other, moving uniformly from one side to the other.

After the group leaves the stage, we witness a series of duels. First, a solo drummer steps on stage, demonstrating his footwork. Next, a dancer joins him, and this dancer’s tapping boots echo the rhythms of the first drummer. The two circle each other like lions, each attempting to outwit the other. The two are then joined by two other dancers. These four are joined by four more. Soon, another drummer beats his bombo. Finally, the entire crew is back out on stage, performing rhythmic tapestries of competitive machismo as they compete with agility and grace.

Following is a solo performance under red lighting. A single Malambo dancer begins whirling boleadoras (lassos with stones on the end). With both agile footwork and the clacking of the boleadoras, the dancer creates more rhythmic percussion. Under the spotlight in an otherwise dark theater, the lassos appear to be swirling trails of light.

A different dancer returns for his solo performance. Barefoot, he sweeps his feet lightly across the floor like a ballet dancer (the influence of Brinas’s ballet career is most evident here). Soon, he is joined by other barefeet dancers in a series of echoing rhythms, and with the same agile step dancing, the first half is brought to a close.

After the intermission, the competitive machismo seems to end, and a collaborative, celebratory air takes hold. While drummers support the dancers with a beat, various dancers take the central stage. The 14 dancers step out into the limelight, and soon, we find ourselves in awe as multiple dancers swung boleadoras, creating complex rhythmic dance formations with the most breathtaking visual display of lights. I was lost in wonder.

But sometimes, the quietest moments are the loudest. Three of the dancers come on stage — one with an acoustic guitar, another with a bombo, and one with a microphone — to sing a Spanish ballad. The music that was previously created by the clanking of boots, the vocal cries, the bombos, and the boleadoras becomes vocalized beautifully.

The same dramatic flair greets the conclusion. Harsh lighting floods the stage. The Malambo dancers’ silhouettes face the audience. They find themselves bowing to a long, standing ovation, well deserved.