Introducing Tango Tiger Tuesdays: review of Sebastian and Mariana at Belgrade Tango Encuentro

I am pleased to introduce a new guest blogger here on ATV: Damian Thompson, the Aussie Tango Tiger. In his first post, Damian reviews performances by Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes at the Belgrade Tango Encuentro which just wrapped up. Enjoy!


G'day, my name is Damian Thompson and currently I'm a Professional Tango Dancer.  This post will not be about me however; this is about other great dancers and my observations of their dancing within all the styles of Argentine Tango.  My objective is not to ridicule anyone or their performances, rather to show the possibilities of improvement and brilliance. 

The teachers and performers at the Belgrade Tango Encuentro included Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, Federico Naveira and Ines Muzzopappa, and Pablo Rodriguez and Noelia Hurtado -- an excellent lineup of tango professionals that seem to be touring together to the major festivals throughout Europe again this year. What is also great about this is that there are such vast differences between their styles, techniques and musicality within their own dancing.

For this review, I'll be covering the first couple, the “Primero” couple in Tango at this point in time: Sebastian and Mariana. Below are their performances at the Grand Milonga, night 2.

First performance:

This is an excellent example of their 'usual' style. From close embrace to open embrace with an amazing array of figures, techniques and skills. There is an excellent display in change of timing, embrace and style throughout this performance.

Interesting to note is that Sebastian, when doing his sacadas with his right leg in quick time, often moves his foot back from the position of the sacada instead of transferring onto that position. There are some not quite complete ganchos, but at the speed that they are working, all of these 'misses' can easily be both overlooked and forgotten due to the exceptionally high level of the performance. 

The only obvious mishap is a slip by Sebastian at 2.25 from which he recovers well. Often the sign of a good professional is the ability to recover, continue, and for the performance to be of an exceptionally high standard. Within this framework, I feel that this was a brilliant performance.

Second performance (milonga):

Milonga is the tango dancers' fun, cheeky dance and most good dancers reserve these dances for those that they feel justify their level and ability as this does happen quite a bit quicker. This performance should show you why!

This is Mariana at her extreme best! Not just because this dance is faster, but because the poise, position and timing of her footwork, adornments and pausing is completely with the lead from Sebastian, regardless of whether or not this is choreographed! At their level it might be, but can just as easily not be choreography as well. Note that at the 27 second mark, Mariana's footwork perfectly matches the melody in the music and Sebastian is holding strong to the rhythm. “Look mum, no hands.” (45 secs) A brilliant moment of fun for them and those watching! The saltos and soltadas shown in here are perfectly timed to the music which again shows the brilliance of these two.

There can be no doubt that they have 'sequences' that they know work and can improvise exceptionally well using this knowledge.

Again, a change of style for contrast is very obvious and well-timed to the music at 1.20 mins – something more performers could definitely take note of. I also love the call and answer in both the music and the dancing at 1.55 min. Parallel walks at 2.27 mins are always a crowd pleaser. What makes this more special is the finish. There is a well timed centada, a back gancho from Mariana to Sebastian, and a kiss to a Mariana's hand -- a great finish for a great lady and dancer!

Third performance (stage routine):

There are some very new, noticeable things that Sebastian is trying and succeeding in to look more original in his own style and technique. The first most notable technique is the enrosque at the 32 sec mark. Sebastian does not finish crossing in this 'enrosque'; instead, his feet finish parallel and whilst rising, he switches to the other foot to complete the enrosque. In this situation and from this angle, it's an extremely effective change to the 'normal' technique within the enrosque.

At the 45 sec mark, they are attempting to hit all the accents in the music and for the only time in this performance, I feel that maybe they should have left that one alone or done something completely different. What they did do was not elegant and looked quite forced.

At the 47 sec point, there is an interesting variation on the normal enganche where Mariana is taking both of Sebastian's legs instead of just one. This is achieved through Sebastian's support foot in parada with Mariana's and lowering his centre to ensure that Mariana can achieve this. From what I can see, this is a variation on Chico's double leg gancho with Juana, but done with Mariana's left leg to give the double leg enganche. This also then lends itself to the simple and beautiful colgada exit that they leave with.

One of my favourite parts to this choreography is the planeo at 1.10 mins. Sebastian times his rise to the music superbly allowing Mariana to follow suit and rise, which allows the collection. At 1.23 mins we see the entry into the Milonguero dip with great class and style and I have not seen it done this way before, so that was also a highlight for me.

Variacion – 2.05 to 2.53 mins. This, for those new to tango, is when stage dancers show off. With this variacion, Sebastian and Mariana had a contained energy, beautifully timed and encapsulating the finish to this song exceptionally well. Within were well lead and excuted double kick between the legs (padaditas), some sort of sacada/salto where Sebastian looks like he's gliding to the next axis, ganchos, sacadas, colgadas and high speed, high action giros! This is a must see for up and coming stage dancers to see what can be done to a piece of music!

Fourth performance (cruzada vals):

This piece of music (Alfredo De Angelis - Ilusión Azul) like most before, they have performed to quite a few times, and hence, as professionals, you would expect them to know it extremely well. Even though I have seen them perform this before, I never tire of this piece.

In this video, however, I feel that they did not do as nicely as they have done in the past. At 1.32, Sebastian looks as though he's unsure; even though he is trying to syncopate as quickly as the music, it comes off as, at best, bad. There is a not-so-elegant attempt at a male enganche at 1.59 where he lightly touches Mariana's calf muscle instead of passing it.

All such moments passed when you see the timing at 3.01 where there is great control and pause to highlight the music perfectly. To understand why I say this was not their best dance to this piece of music, please watch the performance that I prefer here. I find that performance to be much better and more in tune with the music.

Overall, it is still brilliant and their brilliance will grow still. It should also be noted that none of what they do in these videos is easy, simplistic or to be misunderstood.  They are two of the very best in tango!

To find out more about Mariana and Sebastian, click here to like them on Facebook.

Damian Thompson
The Tango Tiger