Abrazos: Tango en Buenos Aires. DVD. With Adriana Varela, Sexteto Mayor, Raul Lavie, Ruben Juarez, Rodolfo Mederos. In Spanish, with English subtitles. [S. I. Argentina]: Tipica Films, 2006, 2003. 005-03. $25.98.
The documentary Abrazos: Tango en Buenos Aires covers the day-by-day excitement of the Fifth Annual Festival Internacional Buenos Aires Tango festival, nine days of concerts, dancing, and dance competitions. The camera follows the dancers and musicians as they arrive from around the world and prepare for the show. Many of the performers and audience member are interviewed, and they ruminate about what tango "means," both to them and to Buenos Aires. Everyone is intensely devoted to tango.
Throughout the film, interviews cut away to musical performances, some full length and some brief. The first concert, by the group Sexteto Mayor, sets the passionate and intimate atmosphere for the rest of the film with its acoustic instrumentation: piano, two violins, and two accordions. Front and center is the star instrument of the tango band, the bandoneon, a cousin of the concertina.
Most of the musicians in Sexteto Mayor are senior citizens; all have dazzling technique, agility, and sensitivity, and are masters of their instruments. One of the younger musicians says of playing with Sexteto Mayor that it's like being a rocker and playing with the Rolling Stones. Luis Stazo, one of the bandoneonistas from Sexteto Mayor says that it has been sixty-six years since he first started playing the bandoneon. "Tango is my life. I was born that way; I'll die that way."
Song lyrics are often filled with a deep yearning, and singers sing of lost love and aching passion. During the rehearsal of one song, in which singer María Graña sings of loneliness and hope, the camera cuts back in time to the band at rehearsal, discussing how best to compliment the lyrics with the instruments. They agree to approach the song softly, with pauses, slowing at key points as the singer sings that she is, "Lonely among so many people, and the fear of falling in love again . . . lonely until the time of love comes back."
The age range of the dance contestants spans from young to very old, and they all bring a measure of sophistication, spryness, and enthusiasm-and passion; always passion. The preparation of the dancers backstage is exhilarating and tense. Everyone is in constant motion: warming up, rehearsing their moves, grooming, shining shoes, and checking makeup. Men dress in dignified formal wear, and while the women's fashion is colorful, striking, form fitting, and sleek, it is equally elegant. Nowhere is there a gaudy excess of sequins, beads, or glitz.
Dancers are judged by their appearance and how they move with the music. One judge comments, "They have to dance in a way that they seem to be one." To some of the dancers it is an honor just to be here. To most it is the competition of a lifetime. A couple from Japan gushes that it has been their dream to dance tango in Buenos Aires. …