Across 75 exhilarating minutes, climax after climax is achieved in the testosterone-charged entertainment showcased by the sultry all-male Argentinian dance troupe, Malevo.
Billed as “Argentina’s greatest export” (it’s really corn but I thought tango might be their greatest cultural export), step by step Malevo are spreading their passionate Latin machismo dance style inspired by the Argentinian folk dance, malambo.
Introduced as the “Dance of the Pampas”, malambo began as a contest of strength and agility with roots in the culture of 17th-century South American gauchos, or cowboys.
Created by director, choreographer and dancer Matías Jaime, it’s a mesmerisingly packaged performance that opens with a dozen bare-chested men in snug black trousers and block-heeled flamenco style boots – arriving looking already drenched by a shower – beating their bombos (drums), clicking their drumsticks and pounding the stage in melting, synchronised fashion.
A mechanical machismo machine of sorts creating formations and routines of exceptional beauty with every part of the body pumped for action, their agility, precision and appeal cannot be resisted. All very sexy!
With footwork-stomping dexterity supposedly inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses matched with vigorous drumming and drumstick-clicking that sounds like the fastest secretary at an old typewriter, it’s a sight and sound world that entraps and captivates. You wonder, where to from here?
Then, joining them, in comes a solo dancer who means business, equally as strong as steel and as pliable as rubber with ankle work that defies human possibility.
Soon after, a single dancer takes the stage demonstrating the awesome skill of whirling boleadoras (lassoes with stones on the end used for capturing cattle), two arms propelling the ropes to create variable rhythmic sounds of a dance step as the stones hit the floor alongside his own in another swirling and intensely focussed highlight.
Of course, what one can do, everyone can do so eventually the whole stage is ablaze with spinning and clacking boleadoras in a thrilling and dangerous looking display of unashamed peacocking.
Later, it’s the rebenque or short whip that accompanies the dancers, who swing them and strike the floor in a mood of aggression. That temperament cools down markedly and briefly with a subsequent fun dance featuring flying ponchos.
But this is not simply an exposé of contemporised traditional gaucho ‘sports’. Jaime provides much opportunity for overlap and dialogue, with tension often scorching across the stage. One minute, bravado and teamwork combine in glorious, celebratory egalitarianism.
The next, eyeing up, asserting oneself and intimidating an opponent brings on an air of chilling division. And all along, Jaime plots the course with great theatrical gusto.
The team is supported by a small band of four musicians – two drummers including one doubling as guitarist, a violinist and accordionist – who get to steal a few moments of fame. And even they, too, engage in the competitive fun of strutting their talents, all for the audience’s benefit.
The best news is that malambo has evolved from being a purely male dance and for the last several years it is being danced by women. I’ll be looking forward, like many will be, to a future 50-50 split one day. In the meantime, I wonder if many others had thoughts like I did of Googling “malambo dance classes Melbourne”.
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 23 January 2024
Season continues to 28 January 2024
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
Images: Artists of Malevo – all photos by Jordan Munns
Review: Paul Selar