A DANCER’S EYE: Che Malambo ignites The Pillow

The dancers themselves have such energy and such passion that they create an electrifying atmosphere. You can’t take your eyes off them for one second.

Becket — Stop what you’re doing and buy a ticket! You mustn’t miss “Che Malambo” at the Jacob’s Pillow this weekend.

Che Malambo, on stage at the Pillow. Christopher Duggan
Che Malambo, on stage at the Pillow. Christopher Duggan

“Malambo” is a type of traditional dancing from Argentina. It stems from the heart of the “Gaucho” (South American Cowboy) tradition, reinvigorated here in a 14-man company formed in 2005 by French dancer Gilles Brinas. Brinas was researching traditional dances when he discovered Malambo, a gaucho dance used in competitive duels in the Pampas region of Argentina in the 1600s. It is a percussive style, in which drums, body percussion, and rhythmic stomping (akin to Flamenco), called zapateo, combine to produce a wild, loud, raucous effect. Besides large drums, the dancers use bolas — throwing weapons made of intertwined rope and weighted at the end with stones – which they twirl to make patterns in the air or to swing aggressively close to other dancers.

Che Malambo.
Che Malambo.

Although the dancers are somewhat choreographed by Mr. Brinas (first enter two dancers, then four, then eight, for instance), the dancers themselves have such energy and such passion that they create an electrifying atmosphere. You can’t take your eyes off them for one second. The dancing was a wilder version of the kind of stomping one might associate with flamenco, along with twisting the torso, arms, and hips, as well as kicking and throwing legs around. When stomping on the ground, the dancers’ feet moved so fast I could barely make out what they were doing. They used every side of the foot as well. I can only imagine how strong their legs and ankles were.

Che Malambo. Photo: Christopher Duggan
Che Malambo. Photo: Christopher Duggan

The group performed the whole program as an ensemble. There were no separate dances. Instead, they continued tirelessly through the whole evening-long performance, with time out just for the brief intermission and a short interlude for a guitar-accompanied song. Throughout, the dancers whooped and yelled, egging one another on to yet more energetic dancing and wild stomping. The audience whooped, too!
I would love to see Malambo in its natural context. Sometimes the dancers squared off against one another as in a dance battle, as indeed it originally was.
This dance troupe is one of the most spectacular events of the summer. Make sure you see it!