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Collection Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection

Tango

Katherine Dunham in "Tango." Photographer, Basabé, Dorien. Courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Originally choreographed as a part of Jazz in Five Movements, which premiered in Paris in 1948, Tango was performed as an independent work, with an entirely different character, in Buenos Aires in 1954. It was danced in anger and protest against the political situation that was then unfolding, against the political repression sanctioned by the regime of Juan and Eva Perón since the Dunham Company's first Argentine tour in 1950. According the Dunham's recollections, the work played upon the audience's probable readings of sentimentality, sexuality, and brutality in her reconstruction of Argentina's national dance.

In an interview recorded in July 1983, Dunham described Tango as follows: "When the woman in Tango enters, she is going somewhere with great urgency, looks back over her shoulder as if she were being pursued. She meets one partner, then two others, and has a brief tango step with the first partner. She is suffering from high, nervous tension. When she performs with her central partner [Vanoye Aikens], she demonstrates several authentic tango steps, but she also engages in confrontation with him. She executes a series of movements in which she very sharply opens her thigh due to his pressure; he hits her with his knee so that she opens hers, and there are two or three movements like that which imply sexual motivation but also refer to the clashing of two people ideologically even though they are politically on the same side. In the process, however, she seems to fling away everything around her in an intent to express another political position. The piece ends on a harsh, sharp note of defiance. The defiance is directed toward the Argentine people, the Peróns, and the situation. I was a different person then. That was my second trip back to Argentina, and I had no illusions about the political situation by then."

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