Ukiah Symphony presents "The Dances of Argentina"
A dance of relation:
Argentine music and dance concert stretches the envelope
by Roberta Werdinger
The Dances of Argentina, the third concert in the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra's 2016-17 season, will be presented at the Mendocino College Center Theatre on Saturday, February 11 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 12 at 3 p.m. The concert will present a rich panorama of Argentine culture, beginning with harpist and impresario Anna Maria Mendieta performing Alberto Ginastera's Harp Concert, Opus 25 accompanied by the Ukiah Symphony under the direction of conductor Les Pfutzenreuter, followed by a performance by tango master Marcelo Molina along with a surprise guest, and concluding with the orchestral suite Estancia: Four Dances, Opus 8A, also by Ginastera.
"We are very thankful to be in Ukiah again," Anna Maria Mendieta says. The Bay Area harpist swung through town last year with her national touring group, Tango del Cielo ("Tango of Heaven"). Undaunted by her long list of credentialsshe's played for a pope, presidents, and celebrities, on stage and screen, and had concertos especially commissioned for herMendieta's primary arc could be described as stretching the envelope: extending a tradition she loves by innovating in it. For example, hearing the music of Astor Piazzolla, the famed tango composer and musician, she thought, "I would love to play that on the harp." When people scoffed at the idea, she was even more determined. "When people tell me something can't be done, it makes me do it even more. I started creating my own arrangements," she recalls, which were performed for the National Harp Conference in 2006 and were highly influential.
Mendieta believes that musicians and dancers exist in a long line of both tradition and innovation. "We're seeing a progression here," she observes, noting how Ginastera "stretched the envelope" in the Harp Concerto, making use of percussive instruments that reflected the indigenous traditions of Argentina. Piazzolla, a student of Ginastera's, greatly extended the range of tango music by incorporating influences from jazz and classical realms, so much so that his music was played more in other countries than in his native Argentina at first. (They later earned widespread acceptance.) After Piazzolla died in 1992 one of his band members, Pablo Ziegler, enjoyed a fruitful solo career without the use of the bandaneón, an accordion-like instrument commonly used in tangodespite people's claims that tango music couldn't be played without it. After Ziegler won a Grammy for best tango album, Mendieta became his student. Of the experience, she says, "It was an incredible and honorable experience to study with him. It cannot be put into writing. It has to be passed on."
Mendieta became so interested in the tango form that she eventually learned the dance, traveling to Argentina to do so. She might make an able partner for Marcelo Molina, who will be featured in the dance portion of the show. Hailing from Córdoba, Argentina and trained there and in the nation's (and tango's) capital, Buenos Aires, Molina now makes his home in Fresno. Lucky Californians get the benefit of Molina's unique grace and strength as a performer and as a choreographer, which have earned him two first place awards in international tango championships in Buenos Aires. Molina has also toured the U.S. with Mendieta's Tango del Cielo group, as well as with other tango ensembles.
Tangoas movement and as musicis, first and foremost, about relationship. The partners, traditionally a man and a woman, make close contact and move together, connecting at arms' length, or at the chest or the hips, depending on the style of tango. Feet are kept close to the floor, lending the form a sultry feel, except for moments of sudden grace when the male or the female partner may kick their leg up, sometimes even (in the female's case) landing it around her partner's neck. While the man is designated as the leader and the female as follower, in the best tango dances a spirit of joy, play, and respect comes forward as the two explore the parameters of their partnership.
Tango has now taken root in many countries. Devoted dancers and musicians import Argentine teachers and travel there to learn the form, while also adapting tango to their own culture. Molina notes, "We dance how we are as a society." There is American-style tango, Uruguayan tango, even Finnish tango. As tango continues to evolve, new art forms will evolve from it. What is constant is the sweat necessary to make a graceful gesture, and something that cannot so easily be put into words. As Mendieta puts it, "Tango is not just about physical contact but about hearing the soul of the other person."
Argentina, like America, is a young country that has produced cultural forms reflecting the rawness and grandeur of its frontier. While America has cowboys, Argentina has gauchos, who worked the ranches and managed the large cattle herds there. All this is evident in the last part of the concert, where the orchestra returns to play Ginastera's work Estancia: Four Dances. "Estancia" means "ranch" in Argentine Spanish; Ginastera built the work around a love story that takes place among the gauchos, presenting it as a four-part orchestral work in 1943 and in 1952 as a ballet. Rippling with the rhythms of traditional Argentine music as expressed through the grace and elegance of the European classical tradition, the piece builds to a rousing conclusion with the last movement, Danza final (Malambo)." Malambo is an indigenous-derived dance that arose on the pampas (grasslands) of South America. Danced by men--sometimes wearing gaucho boots--to prove their prowess, the percussive quality of feet stamping on the earth will be reflected in the vigorous playing of the orchestra.
The Dances of Argentina is sponsored by Rich & Jean Craig, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, and Selzer Realty/Realty World. Tickets are available at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah, Mail Center, Etc. in Cloverdale, and online at www.ukiahsymphony.org. Prices are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors age 65 and older, and free to students with ASB card and those under 18. For further information please call the Ukiah Symphony hotline at 707 462-0236.
Ticket policy: all tickets are non-refundable.
Mendocino College Center Theatre (View)
1000 Hensley Creek Rd
Ukiah, CA 95482
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