Fire in the Argentine Belly

German Cornejo, the lead dancer and choreographer of the Peacock Theatre’s current spectacle - Tango Fire, Flames of Desire’ talks to Latinolife about the show, his life in tango and tango's future.
Catrin Strong

One of the most striking and unexpected things about Tango Fire, as well as the spectacular dancing, is the quality of the live tango orchestra, and its excellent singer, that nourishes the dancing. Tango shows that give space given to the music are rare and  one could say that Tango Fire is as much a concert as it is a dance show.

Tango Fire brings the dance back to its soul – the music - starting with old favourites such as the Gardel classic ‘El Dia Que Me Quieres’ followed by iconic tango anthems such as ‘Por Una Cabeza’ and “La Cumparasita.’ The second half soon develops into a virtual homage to Astor Piazzola, the great composer and bandoneonst who brought us some of the most sublime compositions of all time of any genre. Not a pin drop could be heard as ‘Libertango’and ‘Adios Nonino’ washed over the mesmerised audience. This distinctive factor, one of a few that made this simply the best tango show I’d seen for years, was one of the many questions I was itching to ask the company’s leader and choreographer.

At first calm and unassuming, when German Cornejo starts talking about his work, he becomes as enthusiastic, charming and beguiling as the show itself. Clearly dedicated to his craft and his talent, enthusiasm comes oozing out of his every pore. As Cornejo describes moments in the show, his easy physicality morphs into elegant illustrations. I was transfixed as he described the underground workings of the show, explained how he came to tango, and his vision of its future

Latinolife: I really enjoyed the show and it’s fantastic to have an orchestra - Quarteto Fuego - they added so much to it and the singer Jesus Hidalgo has a beautiful voice and the dancing was spectacular. You must be really proud to be part of Tango Fire.

German Cornejo: Thank you very much . Yes, well I always want to work further on different parts of the show, I never feel the show has finished, it’s complete, I always feel I can do more.

LL: And you’ve been doing it since 2006!…what’s it like to be in such a long running show, touring all over?

GC: Well, we have made changes, I changed some of the choreography when I took over as choreographer, although some of the choreographies were mine last time we visited London when I was working as assistant choreographer. And the individual couples their own choreography, but when I took over as director 2 years ago I made changes to the choreography and songs.

LL: The selection and quality of the music was exceptional I have to say

GC: Well, some songs I changed and sometimes we changed the choreography but used the same songs, like in ‘9 de Julio’ we changed the choreography and added the fans to add some traditional elements of the tango and milonga and take the show in different directions. Every tango is different, each tango has a different meaning and different emotions, not just for the dancers but also for the audience, and I wanted the audience to see all the flavours of the tango.

LL: It felt really fresh and alive, the acting as well as dancing, I thought the women really looked like they were enjoying themselves, which must be difficult after this amount of time touring.

GC: My vision is that an audience sees a fresh show, the first act being more traditional and set in the typical milongas (dance halls) with more traditional choreographies and songs and the second act being more urban, as actual society is now, different to the first act, the second act is more surrealistic with different connotations.

LL: Its nice having that mixture of traditional tangos and then Piazzola included in the 2nd half.

GC: There are so many different ways to dance to different tangos and all the different ways have different connotations, not just for us but for the audience, because in some songs the concept is romantic, light, and other songs maybe stronger and more aggressive.

LL: There have been so many tango shows, was it a challenge to do something new and fresh?

GC: When I create something new it’s not easy to get all the ideas at once, because there are many different things to consider. First of all I think of the style, and when I’ve decided that I try to work out what this style represents for me, not just the movements and the steps but the feeling what I mean also is how that style makes me feel. Also the things that lead me to create the choreography they are in my everyday life. I might be sitting in a café and it starts raining and some girls pass by putting up umbrellas, or I’m doing the washing up in my house listening to the news or the sound and the rhythm of the air conditioning, I like to take everything in and use it and live creatively, everything. Everything inside is a motivation for the moment when you need to create. It’s not creating new movements that is difficult but sometimes you might not have much time to develop something. And it’s to do to with the feeling of the period, the beginning of the century and present day, they have a different feeling. I don’t find it difficult to find new movements, but time to breathe, to be able to create.

LL: I’ve heard some people say, ‘You don’t choose tango, tango chooses you’ do you think that’s true?

GC: Yes, I started dancing tango when I was 10 years old. I started because my mum saw me trying to dance some steps, but I had never seen tango, although I new my grandparents danced tango I had never seen them dance, but my mum had some cassettes with some tangos and some boleros and while my parents were working I used to listen to them and try and dance, imagining how you would dance to them. So one day my mum asked me if I wanted to go and learn? At first I said yes but when I got to the dance school and I was shy and nervous, seeing all the other children but my mum pushed me in and it became part of my life, I started learning the steps and I really liked it. For the 1st year I was in the children’s class and then I started taking 7 hours a day, I would finish school at 3pm then I would start tango at 5 and then finish at 11.30pm.

LL: What did your parents think about you working all those hours?

GC: I think they were happy, I don’t know if it’s the same here but, the street can be dangerous for a child and at least my parents knew I was safe. By Fifteen I started working professionally in tango musicals in Buenos Aires, I would finish at the theatre 11pm and then catch the bus home to my city, Zarate in the province of Buenos Aires getting home at 2.30am and then I would have to get up for school at 7am, it was hard but it was my choice.

LL: How did you feel when you won the world championships in 2005?

GC: It changed my life a lot, everything changed, I became an icon for the younger generation, and many tango dancers wanted to learn my way of dancing, it didn’t just change in the tango scene, but when I won the championships I got recognition, I was only 17.

LL: I really love the live orchestra and singer, who is your favourite tango composer and what is your favourite tango?

GC: I have many, but maybe one of my favourite tangos is ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Violentango' maybe these are an example because they are so different, ‘Oblivion’ is so ethereal and like water and ‘Violentango’ is strong and hard.

LL: If you go out with your friends in Buenos Aires, where do you dance and what style of tango do you dance?

GC My favourite Milongas are La Viruta, which is casual and young, and I go in jeans and also Salon Canning, which is more traditional, and people dress up. The soul of the tango is improvisation, always of course when you create a show you have to have things set but when you develop the show you still create the show at the beginning by improvising. But when we dance in the milonga (tango dance hall) it is improvisation, although the steps are led.

LL: What do you think the future of tango is?

GC: Which aspect of the future of tango? There are many possibilities, there are many branches. I think as long as you keep the root, it’s important to keep the root, but it’s important that everyone creates their own tango, their own style, because it’s a dance of improvisation, the soul of the tango is improvisation and people think and feel in different ways. The most important is that you create your own style, of course you have basic rules but after you learn these rules and you learn the basic steps, you can define your tango. There are many electro tango bands and it’s just a different way to show their thoughts and feelings. I don’t think because people are creating different and new styles that the traditional tango can be broken or lost, because when I learnt first of all I learnt the traditional way of dancing tango, one thing is the choreography and steps but the most important thing is that you feel when you dance tango and when we dance in the show, the most important thing is the feeling we inspire in the audience. For me the most important thing is to ‘mobilizar’ to wake up the people.

LL: Do you think if you had been born in another country you would be a tango dancer?

GC: I’m sure I would be a dancer, wherever I was born, because the dance is a passion for me?

LL: Do you feel you need to go back to Buenos Aires to recapture the tango?

GC: The tango is everywhere, because for me the tango is a way of life, I walk in the street and I feel tango because its my life, of course I want to go back to my country, because I love my country and my city, but not to renovate my stuff, but to go back to my family, my home and my things. And when we get back, then we start rehearsals in Buenos Aires, maybe for a new show! So my head is thinking already.

CS: Oh my god, I can’t wait. Thank you so much.

GC Thank you.