Monday, February 17, 2014


The women walk in a circle in the city square, they walk quietly heads wrapped in white scarves photographs hung around their necks, they are there every day, have been there for years, their sorrow hangs around their necks as do the photos and that sorrow that pain fills the air, rubbing up against the windows of the Presidential Palace and further up, out of the country of Argentina, into the world, where the pain of the women, the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo would eventually change everything ...

This is the world of Arrabal, a dance show currently running at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto

Essentially this play is a ballet; there is no dialogue and there are no lyrics. The story is expressed through music, some audio visual aides and dance. The story takes place in Argentina so the dance, is of course, the tango. Or primarily the tango and versions thereof

The story opens during the regime of brutal dictator Rafael Videla who "disappeared" over 30,000 of his own citizens, anyone who protested his government, men and women, most of whom were kidnapped and tortured them murdered. So yeh ... this ain't Disney.

Arrabal is a young woman whose father is one of the Disappeared, taken by police 18 years earlier and his mother, Arrabal's grandmother, is one of the women of the Plaza de Mayo. Arrabal knows little of her father and neither women know of his exact fate; we the audience do, in a harrowing sequence we watch the man's arrest and torture and murder

The story is one of discovery, of Arrabal discovering her father's story, of the country discovering its new sense of self after the regime, of a young woman discovering her self in the bright lights of Buenos Ares ... and Tango is the medium through which all change is realized

The dancing and the staging is spectacular ranging from humorous (Arrabal is enticed to a tango palace run by her father's friend by a boneless, fluid, magical character) to poignant (the father's friend flashes back to an innocent time when he and his friend played soccer only to watch the man walk off to his doom) to sexy (Arrabal is emotionally and physically seduced by the dancers of the tango palace). Oh yeh, sexy in a way that only tango can deliver

The last two shows we've seen, Once and Heartbeat of Home featured bands that played on stage and interacted to some degree with the show. Arrabal was the same. The band fuses traditional tango instruments like the accordian with electric guitars and synths.

In addition to dance and music, the show uses a wide range of audio visual techniques to tell its story. Heartbeat of Home also used projections but they only added to the puzzlement of what that show was all about. In Arrabal, projections and lighting effects and audio serve to deepen and explain the story. In a sequence where the Mothers of the Plaza dream of dancing with their Disappeared sons, the back of stage is filled with pictures of those who were lost, one by one winking out into darkness; at the end of the number the grandmother is alone on the stage in her white scarf, holding the picture of her son when suddenly the theatre is filled with the pictures of those who were murdered, leaving the woman looking very small and very alone

Across the board the cast was incredibly strong, acting and dancing in a way that gave us every nuance of the story with no need for words. I don't much about the tango, I certainly don't know enough to understand whether or not this was a perfectly executed dance

But I do now that this is dance not just for the sake of dancing but dancing used as an expression, a wide range of expressions and that were moments of performance that made me catch my breath

The period of time described in Arrabal was one of pain for the people of Argentina. Through it all they had each other and had the tango. When the world is against you, when it seems all you can do is suffer and grieve, perhaps the best thing you can do is to dance away the pain

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