This Thursday SPAC is bringing Argentina to Saratoga. There will be Argentinian horses, Argentinian polo players and Argentinian barbecue (also known as Asado) and the piece de resistance will come in the form of Che Malambo–an all-male, Argentinian dance troupe that performs South American Malambo a combination of dance, percussion and rope work popularized in duels between gauchos in the 17th century.
Matthew Bledsoe, vice president of IMG Artists, first saw the group perform in a YouTube clip. He was so moved that he reached out to founding director Gilles Brinas, a former ballet dancer, who decided to seek out dancers in Argentina years after having seen his first Malambo dance. Bledsoe now manages the troupe.
Bledsoe described how Brinas traveled to Buenos Aires in search for 14 dancing boleadoras but was met with resistance. “The people he met with discouraged him. They told him Malambo is an individual dance, or a dance between two men. They saw him as a carpetbagger coming in to exploit the culture.”
Brinas was on his way back to France when he encountered an inscription on a Gaudí building in Buenos Aires that read: “No dream is impossible.” The next day he met a dance teacher who helped him recruit 14 dancers. As much as Malambo is representative of a piece of Argentinian culture, it is also representative of a number of other cultures’ dance traditions. “There is a major Spanish influence,” says Bledsoe. “The famine drove many Irish to Argentina and as a result you see a lot of high knees and kicking–it is incredibly representative of Argentina but it is a melting pot.”
The performance has been likened to Riverdance. The dancers do rope tricks and play guitar and the bombos, or drums.
Most of all, Bledsoe said, the dancers “have to be very good, very skilled, because they have to master dance, guitar and drumming.” Elizabeth Sobol, who came on as president of SPAC late last year, said that Che Malambo represents her “efforts to create diversity in the people who come to SPAC and the performers.”
Sobol has spent a lot of time in Latin America and is particularly fond of Argentina. “It was serendipitous that the time period we were looking to fill that Che Malambo was available. I wanted acts that could fill the stage, that would really occupy it, that had a percussive element and they have that. Of course there is also the aspect of the gaucho tradition of having men on horses and there is no more perfect parallel to bring dancers with a deep tradition with horse culture to Saratoga.”
Sobol hopes to truly immerse the audience in Argentine culture. “We wanted something visceral and immersive. Often times people come into the theater out of curiosity–maybe an ad grabbed them, maybe it was word of mouth, but whatever it is what I really want is for viewers to come off with immersive experiences.”
Bledsoe says that the dancers in Che Malambo feed off of the crowd–they need them. “The audience makes or breaks it. I hope they don’t hold back. They really shouldn’t hold back.”
The Argentinian experience will continue on Saturday, July 22 with tango lessons with Tango Fusion founders Diane and Johnny Martine, and a screening of Un Tango Mas at the Spa Little Theater in partnership with Saratoga Film Forum. The event costs $15. Tickets for Che Malambo start at $27.