Manhattan Beach

From Argentina With Love: All-male fiery dance group debuts in Brooklyn

March 22, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Che Malambo’s all-male cast leaps into the air. Photo by M. Lidvac

When Che Malambo comes to town, spellbound spectators are treated to an impassioned performance featuring drums, stomping, fierce percussion and whirling weapons.

What could be mistaken for a tribal war scene is actually the performance of an all-male Argentinian powerhouse dance company called Che Malambo.

The group consists of 14 “gauchos,” or Argentinian cowboys, and features precision footwork, rhythmic stomping, drumming, singing and spiraling “boleadoras.”

A boleadora is a hunting weapon and shepherding tool that gauchos use to capture prey and catch runaway cattle. The lasso-like instrument consists of three ropes weighted at the ends with rocks.

While many people know of Argentina’s infamous tango, which originated in the 1880s along the border of Argentina and Uruguay, fewer are aware of malambo, a dance ritual that gauchos performed around the campfire in Argentina’s mountainous Pampas region.

The fiery malambo tradition began in the 17th century as competitive duels that would test the gaucho’s skills of agility, strength and “zapeteo,” or fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of the galloping horses of Argentina.

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On Saturday, Brooklynites will have the opportunity to feast their eyes on this breathtaking performance, as Che Malambo will make its Brooklyn debut as part of On Stage at Kingsborough, a performance series that brings world-class artists to southern Brooklyn at an affordable price.

The show will be on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.

“To a North American audience, I would say it’s Argentina’s response to stomp or the South American version of river dance,” said Matthew Bledsoe, producer of Che Malambo. “It’s a percussive dance and music spectacle that’s deeply rooted in the traditions and history of the gauchos from South America.”

Argentina, like the U.S., was and still is a country of mass immigration. People come to the country for asylum and to seek better lives. Malambo, therefore, contains influences from many different cultures.

“Imagine these cowboys are on horseback for days and days at a time, herding large groups of cattle,” Bledsoe told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Whenever they would gather with other gauchos, say around a campfire, they developed, over many years, this competitive type of duel or dance.

“It really picked up influences from all around the world that were present in the lives of the gauchos. It’s really an interesting melting pot of international influence, yet still very specific and unique to Argentina.”

The dance has influences from West Africa, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Ireland and of course, Argentina.

The boleadoras maintain the Argentinian influence as the men swing them around their heads while hitting them against the floor to make a percussive noise.

The drums, called “bombos,” are originally from West Africa. They were brought to Argentina by slaves who came from West Africa to Portugal to Brazil and finally Argentina. These slaves would work side-by-side with gauchos. Similar to Morse code, the slaves originally used bombos to communicate from mountaintop to mountaintop.  

The footwork has Spanish influence featuring traces of Flamenco. The “vaqueros,” or cowboys from the Spanish conquistadors that were present in South America, brought the boots used in malambo with them.

In later versions of malambo, there is high-kicking and high-lifting of the knees, a nod to Irish step dance. During the early 1900s, there was a mass influx of Irish immigrants to Argentina. Many of the settlers were sheepherders and worked on farms alongside the gauchos.

Like malambo, Brooklyn too is a melting pot of many different cultures.

“Brooklyn is worldwide right now,” Bledsoe told the Eagle. “It’s a hot place to be. To get a date in Brooklyn is exciting. The audience, particularly in Brooklyn, is young. It’s a challenge for [Che Malambo] because [Brooklynites] are exposed to so many different and cool things.

“The group feels like we’re going to Brooklyn, we have to show them something that is really cool because they have access to so many other cool things.”

Although Saturday’s performance will be Che Malambo’s Brooklyn debut, the company knows New York well, having performed at the City Center Theater in October 2015.

At that show the group received a standing ovation and several curtain calls. Their performance was raved about by news outlets worldwide.

“When the curtain went down after the bows, I came running on stage to congratulate them and they were all crying,” said Bledsoe. “Imagine these 14 macho men crying because they were so moved to see that not only the audience liked it, but for them it was being accepted and having their culture accepted.”

He added, “For them to stand up on a stage in one of the most important cities in the world and have the audience applaud them, that’s something I’m sure they will never forget.”

Che Malambo premiered in Paris in 2007.

The company is made up of Federico Arrua, Fernando Castro, Francisco Ciares, Claudio Diaz, Miguel Flores, Federico Gareis, Albanano Jimenez, Walter Kochanowski, Gonzalo Leiva, Facundo Lencina, Gabriel Lopez, Exequiel Maya, Daniel Medina and Jose Palacio.

“In Argentina, the cultural export that everybody knows is tango, but malambo is not as promoted, recognized and commercialized,” said Bledsoe. “It’s something that is handed down from generation to generation. It’s their lifestyle, their cultural identity through and through.”

On Stage at Kingsborough has three venues: a fully equipped main stage venue, a 1,100-seat outdoor band shell where free summer concerts are held and a lighthouse venue.

“We’ve made the commitment of presenting international artists that are leaders in their field and that is never more true than in our dance series where we present dance from all over the world from Ireland, Spain and Argentina,” said Bay Ridge resident and Executive Director of On Stage at Kingsborough Anna Becker. “Che Malambo seemed like a natural fit as an idea because they are the leading malambo dancers from Argentina.”

She added, “I knew they were a great match for our audience. Our audience is very adventurous, very educated and cultured. They’re really curious to see things they haven’t seen before, but they really know when they’re seeing the best and that’s what I wanted to present to them.”

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The performance starts on Saturday at 8 p.m. on the main stage. Tickets cost $32. Kingsborough Community College is located at 2001 Oriental Blvd. To purchase tickets, go to onstageatkingsborough.org.

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