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In lively competition, swing vs. tango rocks


May 13, 2005

No wonder they don't mix. Like oil and vinegar, they repel each other. Swing is all about the dress-down sensuality of abandon. Tango is the dress-up dance of loneliness and lust.

The Bartender knew he was in for it when he heard that dance partners from an Argentine-immigrant neighborhood across town would drop by The Warehouse, nightclub turf of couples devoted more to West Coast Swing than to each other. At The Warehouse, the guys in particular like to shwing in a related vernacular once the dancing is done.



"Swango," which made its world premiere last week at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, owes its literal vernacular to Rupert Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "Accomplice"). But the show would be nothing without the creative vision and vitality of Mariela Franganillo and Robert Royston, masters of tango and swing, respectively, under the tight directive rein of Tony Stimac.

Think "Contact" meets "Forever Tango."

Our tour guide is London native Paul Medford, who, as The Bartender, holds the key to the nightclub as well as the narrative. After introducing the swing regulars who arrive with their own music (brandishing a CD clues us - and the musicians' union - that "Swango" will be another musical without live music), The Bartender leads us on a history-lesson flashback. He traces swing to Harlem's Savoy Ballroom of the '20s, where the dance originated as the "Lindy Hop," in honor of Charles Lindbergh. Two original tunes by Holmes, "Soup du Jour" and "Temptress in Taupe," accompany the jazzy time-travel.

Back to the present-day Warehouse, materialized with post-industrial integrity by Dana Kenn and lit with romantic shadings by Burke Wilmore, tension simmers. The Argentine contingent shows the swingers a thing or two about the seduction of dance, stompingly led by Pamela Beatriz Garegnani and Juan Manuel Fernandez. Answering the challenge (to "Ch-ch-chain /chain of fools") is Cash, played by Robert Royston, in an athletic three-way with Royston's real-life wife, Nicola, and Laureen Baldovi.

The crossover wild card turns up when Franganillo, as nightclub waitress Malena, gives up her apron for a two-piece little black dress and joins Team Tango. Cash, forsaking his steady, stalks the mercurial Malena and tries to out-macho Angel Garcia Clemente, Malena's tango partner.

The Bartender admonishes all combatants and takes us on another tour, this time to tango's womb in a turn-of-the-20th-century bordello, complete with swinging gauchos - boleadoras ablaze - and prostitutes draped over the bar.

Back at The Warehouse, nothing is resolved until the swing versus tango dance-off turns violent. Or does it? The culminating fusion anticipated in the title sets "Dance With Me" to the feverish syncopation of "Hernando's Hideaway."

A fusion ticket to Broadway? Don't bet your dance card, or your bandoneón, against it.

SWANGO. A new dance musical. Written by Rupert Holmes; conceived and choreographed by Mariela Franganillo and Robert Royston. At Queens Theatre in the Park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, through May 22. Tickets $26-$32; call 718-760- 0064. Seen last Thursday at White Plains Performing Arts Center.

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