Rhythmic dueling

Argentina's Che Malambo to present South American dance and music at the Weis Center

LEWISBURG — Born from the heart of the gaucho (cowboy) tradition, Argentina’s Che Malambo is now thrilling audiences around the world with a new production. The dance company will represent aspects of this South American gaucho culture in a live performance of dance and percussion at 7:30 p.m. March 20, at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University, 1 Dent Drive.

Che Malambo, a powerhouse, Argentinian dance company, excites audiences through a dynamic blend of precise footwork and rhythmic stomping, drumming of the bombos (drums), singing and whirling boleadoras (lassos with stones on the end). Presenting a thrilling, percussive dance and music spectacle, the all-male group’s work celebrates gaucho, the unique South American cowboy tradition.

This powerhouse of 14 gauchos is directed by French director, choreographer and former ballet dancer, Gilles Brinas. Che Malambo brings fiery malambo traditions to the contemporary stage for an exhilarating and entertaining show that is perfect for the entire family.

Artistic director of Che Malambo, Brinas founded the company in 2005 after falling under the spell of malambo, a centuries-old contest-dance style. His all-male troupe modernizes the South American tradition of the dance-infused machismo showmanship with percussive techniques and rapid-fire zapateado (fast footwork inspired by galloping horses).

Danced solely by men, malambo originated in the 17th century, in the South American Pampas (lowland plains). It evolved as competitive duels among Argentine gauchos (South American cowboys) that tested agility, strength, and dexterity. It soon came to include what is now its hallmark, zapateado, a fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses.

“The malambo was practiced as a kind of rhythmic duel,” Brinas said. “One performance 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.”

In addition to Che Malambo’s foot-stomping feats of strength, the production highlights the spectacle surrounding a malambo dancer’s use of bombos and whirling boleadoras (throwing weapons made of intertwined cords and weighted with stones).

Brinas was born into a loving and responsible working-class family, whose only art was the art of living, if not surviving. Accompanied by a transistor radio, Brinas was very active and always in movement, excelling in sports and education. For him, television opened the door to Hollywood and Gene Kelly’s “Dancing in the Rain.”

“I began ballroom dancing, and my specialty was Rock ‘n’ Roll swing,” Brinas said. “At 18, I met Lucia Petrova and danced in the ballet.”

A renowned dancer and choreographer, Brinas performed with prestigious dance companies throughout Europe including Ballet de l’OpÈra de Lyon, under the direction of Vittorio Biagi and Miklo Sparemblek, the Ballet of the 20th century by Maurice BÈjart at La Scala in Milan, and the Grand Ballet de France and in the company of Robert Hossein. In addition to founding the Ballet DEA in 1979, Brinas has choreographed works for Beinnale de la Danse. Amongst his many honors are awards from the Bagnolet competition and the Charles Oulmont Foundation.

“I have always sought meetings with choreographers and teachers of all styles and schools,” Brinas said. “Dance is one and indivisible — a simple walk can turn into a ballet, provided that one pays attention.”

The malambo is an explosive dance which Brinas said has never stopped evolving.

“Originally it was challenging, to be the most musical, the virtuoso,” Brinas said. “The interpreters now dance with legs of fire with overpowered zapateados, play the bombo with virtuosity, and formidably manipulate the boleadoras. Che Malambo is a decidedly current ballet or dance and rhythm are the guests of honor.”

When Brinas began his life as a professional dancer, he met Argentine ballet dancers who appreciated the Ballet of Lyon at that time. In 2004, the malambo was soon developed.

“At that time, the malambo and folklore in general were quite discreet,” Brinas said. “In Buenos Aires, there were lost campaigns and it was ignored by the capital, so we turned to face Europe.”

In March 2005, after the establishment of an unlikely group of two girls and six boys, the first rehearsals for Che Malambo began in Buenos Aires. In May 2007, Che Malambo was presented at the Casino de Paris and at the beginning of the first tours.

“Che Malambo ballet is a concert, a dance rhythm,” Brinas said. “It is the meeting of a well-assumed folklore with a foreign world, avant garde or against the current, dance rhythms and making connections and understanding.”

For Che Malambo, there are two styles of dance: the Northern — the Norteno, and the Southern — the Sureno.

“The Norteno is danced with boots — those cowboys would do the trick, and the dance is powerful,” Brinas said. “The Sureno is a barefoot dance, which is flexible. The two styles are very bright and intense and are present in our representations.”

Originally these dances were solitary Gauchos, but they now have developed and enriched the constant influx of new migrants and now with the Internet.

“After those of the North and South it could be said that there is now a third style that is increasingly used by malambistes and malambo companies,” Brinas said.

The main theme for Brinas was and still remains “Dance” with a big “D.”

“The first thing to do is to find dancers who want to try the adventure, working with a choreographer who knows absolutely nothing about the intended, and discovering a closely guarded folklore,” he said. “I have indeed met folklore dancers, but dancers of all, especially students of Mario Busto, who initiated the rules of ballet and its requirements. We began to understand each other, and my ideas evolved to listen to their brilliant technique that I began to integrate. Other very good dancers have now joined us, either by friendship or by hearing.”

Brinas said he “believes in the virtues of the arts, the light that illuminates our lives, and the poetry that contains them all.”

“Every art has its own means, individual goals, and specific destinations,” he said. “The dance and music are abstract areas that we need to give concrete form to achieve the duty of the artist, the official timing and public focus. The public does not move to the arts for fun and to relax, but to focus and meet.”

For more information, visit www.bucknell.edu/WeisCenter.