Germán Cornejo grew up dancing the Argentine tango and famously choreographed the award-winning Tango Fire show. The show originated from the tango houses of Buenos Aires, but since then, it has continued to travel across continents and delight global audiences. Before Cornejo’s Tango Fire returns to London at the Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre from January 29 – February 16, Germán talks tango, Buenos Aires and performing with Dance Dispatches.
Germán Cornejo Interview
Hello German. Thanks very much for taking time out of your busy touring schedule to give us insight into Argentine tango and your show, Tango Fire.
Do you remember what first drew you to the Argentine tango?
The magic of the connection between the bodies. How two human beings can be connected on an extremely deep level, and move like just one without hesitation, was what caught me and didn’t let me out of the tango. It’s precious to me.
Argentine tango seems very intimate; and it’s often seen as a very passionate dance form. Do you this is a common misconception of tango?
Yes, definitely. The tango has a lot more colours to offer than just a lustful connection. Of course, this is one of the colours of the tango, but not the only one. Without doubt, this is a dance of connection, but the connection goes beyond than that.
For example, I used to dance with my grandmother when I was young, and the connection always was about family love, about feeling the sweet embrace of my granny.– Germán Cornejo
That’s really sweet – what a special family memory!
When I visited Buenos Aires, I found watching mixed age pairs at milongas really interesting. However, I didn’t see any children learning to dance the tango.
[When children start dancing] it is all about the excitement to learn new steps or the joy to share dance with other kids.
For adults, it can happen the same way: sometimes Argentine tango is just about sharing a lovely moment dancing with friends or strangers, indulging solely in the pure joy of the dance.
That’s a great way to look at sharing the dance, and this perspective will certainly surprise some dance enthusiasts.
Argentine tango also developed in Uruguay, and it’s now danced all over the world. How do you think the Argentine tango culture is special and unique to Buenos Aires?
Buenos Aires is special because it was where tango was born from a mix of immigrant cultures, before it spread to the rest of the world. The number of “milongas” in Buenos Aires (dance clubs where you can go to dance tango) and the way it is danced here by thousands of people, makes Buenos Aires the reigning original home for our dance.
When you are in Buenos Aires, even in the most sophisticated places or neighborhoods you can breathe tango.– Germán Cornejo
It’s part of our identity, part of the mystery of the bohemian streets of San Telmo, it’s part of the people – even when some of them don’t know it, yet.
The Argentine tango seems to promote Buenos Aires as a romantic city.
When I visited, I asked two different taxi drivers who grew up in Buenos Aires if they danced tango.
A younger driver told me:
‘You won’t find many local dancers under 50 years old, maybe 60,
who are interested in dancing the tango.’
The middle-aged driver told me:
‘Of course. You aren’t a porteño
if you don’t know how to dance the tango and love the music.’
What percentage of the Buenos Aires population would you estimate knows how to dance the Argentine tango?
Whilst there are a lot of people in Buenos Aires that dance tango definitely, not all of the population in Buenos Aires knows about how to dance it, or is interested to learn how.
On the other hand, in the rest of Argentina, inside of the beautiful provinces of our country, there are so many new generations that are continuously learning, training and travelling to Buenos Aires to study with several Maestros admired by them.
Argentine tango is such a social dance, but you have won professional competitions, too.
Do you feel that the subtleties of the dance still translate when performed competitively for judges?
Well, this doesn’t always happen. When people are in a competition, for some of them it’s difficult to keep away their thoughts about how the judges will see their dance and if they will approve it or not; so the pressure of the competition can badly affect their performance.
Even in a competition, you are there just to dance, to give yourself entirely to your dance partner, to the music and enjoy the moment completely without any preoccupation.
And performing on a stage during a set show is different, yet again.
Do you feel the connection to your partner as strongly when you perform set choreography for large audiences, as you do when dancing solely for yourselves?
Yes, this is the key of our dance: keep it for ourselves, even if people are watching us. It’s just her and me on stage, surrounded by the music and our own vibes.
Since you perform in Tango Fire so frequently, do you still dance socially at milongas?
Sometimes, when you work at what you love most, it’s difficult to find a balance between pleasure and the responsibilities of the work itself.
I used to go in my earlier years a lot. Right now, I definitely don’t go to Milongas as frequently as I would like to go. However, since we’re in the middle of rehearsals, I am taking a break from milongas for a while.
That sounds like a necessary trade-off. Your Tango Fire show has toured for more than a decade and continues to be immensely successful.
After 14 years of international touring, how do you approach the choreography and keep the dancing feeling fresh?
I usually change different parts of the show or a bit of choreography for each show. It makes the show feel fresh for the audience – and for us, too. 14 years is a lot of time, so you need to keep it fresh, updated and the most important thing, keep it real.
All of us rehearse the show and practice our steps or movements millions of times to be sure they are executed perfectly and create the right mood on the audience as we expect, but when we are on stage, we live it 100%.
I’ve heard about a new element of solo work in this iteration of Tango Fire, which sounds really interesting!
Is there any improvisation during these solos, and is it inspired by the music – or are they completely set before the show?
Many of the numbers of the show are choreographed following the music, in order to make everything on the right time, with the right light, and at the perfect spot. For this show, I only leave improvisation for the most intimate moments of the solos, so we can act – and react – as we feel in that moment.
We’ll do our best to keep our eyes peeled for these special moments of dance improvisation when we the show at Sadler’s Wells!
Thanks again, Germán, for sharing your insight into Argentine tango and your local dance culture. We wish you, Gisela and the rest of the cast all the best with your international Tango Fire tour.