Sunday, 9 April 2017

Tango-Tango: John And JoJo's Gladsome Gem

John Curry and JoJo Starbuck. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

"Jalousie Tango",or "Tango-Tango" as it came to be known, was first created by Peter Martins of the New York City Ballet for a June 1978 benefit for John Curry's School Of Skating in New York. The audience for its first performance included Mikhail Baryshnikov, Lauren Bacall, Dick Cavett, Liv Ullmann, Princess Lee Radziwill (sister of Jackie O) and Diana Vreeland.

John Curry's "Ice Dancing" opened in November of that year for a sold out two-week run at Madison Square Gardens and reopened on Broadway in December of that year and "Tango-Tango" was one of the highlights of the show. Bill Jones, in his book "Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry" described what made the number so unique for Curry: "Few of Curry's works were quite so shameless as 'Tango-Tango'. Wearing a tight matador's suit and slicked down hair, Curry vamped alone before JoJo swept in... to lock eyes and arms with her lover. As the music built, the ghosts of Fred and Ginger stirred. On the ice, the couple seemed propelled by genuine yearning. Together, they glided, they waltzed and they spun, and after JoJo's climactic jump she beckoned her man meaningfully off stage."


For the most part, dance critics adored the piece. In a December 24, 1978 review in the "Lawrence Journal-World", the program set to the music of Igor Stravinsky and Jacob Thune Hansen Gade was recounted as a "high-spirited spoof of every Valentino tango you've ever seen on screen. Gliding onto the ice of the Minskoff Theater in an outrageous purple satin dress lined in red, a black Spanish shawl tossed casually over one shoulder, Miss Starbuck proceeds to flounce, slink, sulk and pout with a haughty, head-tossing disdain, while her partner, Curry, sweeps her around the floor." Another critic called it simply "a masterpiece". However, not everyone loved it. New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff dimissed it as a "mock tango" and remarked that "its only moment of truth came, not when the dancers were in a clinch, but when they glided past one another in circles. And missed each other."

The number resurfaced repeatedly in many of Curry's productions and became an audience favourite... but not every performance went smoothly. In my April 2014 interview with Lorna Brown, she discussed one such occasion, when a tiff with Curry over her solo death spiral led to an unexpected climax: "One memory from John's shows that will always stand out is skating 'Tango-Tango' with him. Jojo wasn't there at that show. I wore a different costume than her and I was very different to JoJo. We were each other's understudies. The beginning was amazing and then he took me down into the death spiral and he let go and I lost the death spiral. I remember leaving the ice and I was so upset with him. I asked him 'why? Why would you do that?' and he looked at me and said 'I thought you could do it by yourself'. There I was with these black tears and bright red lips. It never happened again."

Twyla Tharp's "After All" and Norman Maen's "Afternoon of a Faun" come to mind instantly as two of the works from "Ice Dancing" that are best remembered and given their fair due to this very day. As much as I adore both of those masterpieces as well, "Tango-Tango" is one of my favourites from John Curry's vast repertoire. It's simply magical!

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