Caravan World Rhythms, founded in 2000, is a non-profit arts organization based in Vancouver whose mission is “to provide high-quality, engaging live cultural entertainment…from Canada and around the world”. On May 20th, Caravan World Rhythms presented Che Malambo, an all-male powerhouse, Argentine company directed by renowned French choreographer, Gilles Brinas, at the Vogue Theatre, as the final event of their winter-spring season.
Malambo is said to have been a rhythm brought to Argentina from Africa in the 1600’s. As decades turned into centuries the rhythm evolved, absorbing indigenous and European influences and lending itself well to hand clapping, foot tapping dance. During the 19th century, gauchos (cowboys) living on their horses roamed the pampas alone, herding livestock that also roamed free. In the evenings these tough, weather-hardened men would gather in saloons or around the camp fire performing sounds and rhythms of galloping horses with hands and feet, sometimes accompanied by a bombo (drum) or perhaps a guitar. Brinas tells us that the name Malambo “was eventually transferred to the dance it inspired, which developed from little challenges a pair of gauchos would make to each other. The Malambo was practiced as a kind of rhythmic duel. One performer danced a rhythmic sequence, which was taken up by the other who completed it before it was taken up again by the first who extended it even further.”
Brinas first experienced a performance of Malambo in Paris and was so impressed that he travelled to the Pampas of Argentina in search of the traditional gaucho and his dance. He states that his life was forever changed, and in 2005 he created the company Che Malambo “from the best Malambo dancers of the area”.
My first experience with Che Malambo saw me seated in the midst of a lively crowd, not sure what to expect. One by one, fourteen macho dancers emerged on stage setting the tone in their form fitting, sleeveless black shirts, each pausing in a commanding, arched back stance. Demonstrating amazing mastery, dexterity and endurance the dancers’ fast-paced footwork, fired out rhythms using the toes, heels and sides of their boots, and twisting, cross over movements that were so quick and honed it appeared knees were attached by a swivel.
Throughout the performance, the drumming dancers maintained break neck speed and astounding agility in dynamic solos and rousing group choreography, enhancing their story with changes of costume and, at times, dancing barefoot. I thought the most spectacular sequence was the floor pounding percussion of spinning Boleadoras. A Boleadora is made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords and were once used as weapons. Performers kept rhythm with these unwieldy instruments spinning them so that the heavy balls slapped the floor with incredible precision. The unnerving display screamed danger as the flying wheels seemed far too close to one another, leaving me at the edge of my seat.
Che Malambo is a performance brimming with passion, commitment and talent. It is truly outstanding – a must see for anyone interested in rhythm and dance.