Our Last Tango (Un tango más)
(Germany/Argentina, 85 min.)
Dir. German Kral
When I went to see the musical Tango Argentino on Broadway in 1985, I didn’t know what big stars Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves were, but when I watched them dance, I did know I was in the presence of greatness. I was riveted, seeing real tango live for the first time. Every cliché I had heard was true. The music was fiery and brooding. The partners danced with passion and deep connection, their movements compelling and razor-sharp. Those impressions lingered for 22 years, until I finally got up the nerve to take tango lessons. It was a deep plunge: eight years Iater, I’m barely at the start of my journey, aching to dance, and aching to dance better some day than I can now.
Now that I have seen Our Last Tango, director German Kral’s new feature film about Copes and Nieves—an engaging combination of interviews, documentary footage, and evocative recreations of the dancers’ long careers together and apart—I have a vivid sense of the passions that have driven them throughout their tumultuous lives. The five-year old Maria’s joy in movement and music as she dances exuberantly with a broom to the tangos on the radio in her family’s Buenos Aires tenement flat. The teenage Maria’s first throes of love and desire, as she revels in Juan’s embrace and they tango in the rain. Juan’s egotism and possessiveness toward her as a dance partner (“I had found my Stradivarius…She belonged to me.”) Juan’s fierce ambition to make Argentine tango a world art form, just like American jazz. The exhilaration of their professional success. Maria’s ache at his sexual betrayals and the end of their marriage. The hatred that inspires her dancing as they continue their long careers together. Her devastation when he ultimately ends their professional partnership as well. (“It was the artistic separation that hurt the most… I’d never have done that to him.”) Her poignant regret at not having had children. (“I tell the young girls, tango can wait three or four years. Have your babies now.”) Her pleasure as she dances before an adoring audience, in her 80s, and basks in their love. Her pride at having overcome adversity to become her own woman at last.
And throughout all this, the profound love that both of them have for tango itself, the dance and the music resonating through their souls and animating all they do.
Much as Copes—one of the show’s choreographers as well as one of its performers—had envisioned, the success of Tango Argentino on Broadway and in over 50 cities on four continents is widely credited for the renaissance of tango in Argentina and its embrace by dancers worldwide. Great performers like Copes and Nieves create art that enriches our lives. So do documentarians like Kral, who tell real-life stories like Our Last Tango with such passion and artistry. As a rightly humble social dancer, I hope to create nothing more than some moments of happiness for myself and my partners. But I am deeply grateful to the many tango artists—composers, lyricists, musicians, singers, dancers, and teachers—who have made tango a gift from Argentina to the world and given me the chance to live some of my own passions through it.