All about Che Malambo, a dance of Argentina

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Che Malambo is an Argentinian dance company of fourteen male dancers that are dedicated to showcasing the fiery Malambo dance tradition which began in the 17th century as competitive duels. These dances challenge skills of agility, strength, and “zapeteo” which describes the fast-paced footwork that is inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses. In March of 2017, Che Malambo performed on stage in Brooklyn as part of On Stage at Kingsborough’s 2017 spring season.

Despite being an Argentinian tradition, Che Malambo was started in 2007 by Gilles Brinas, a French director and choreographer. He has since toured the world with the group, delighting audiences across the globe. Recently, producer Matthew Bledsoe and dancer Miguel Flores discussed the show:

Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: How did you get into dance and theatre?

Miguel Flores (MF): Malambo is very much a part of my family life and has been ever since I was a young boy. Any time we get together with friends and family, it is what we do – Malambo. There is always a guitar, and bombo (the Argentinian drum used in Malambo) nearby no matter what the occasion, so it’s just a question of time before we start to sing and dance. Malambo is in my blood, it’s who I am, it’s my life. Malambo is a major part of the cultural identity of a large part of Argentina, many people are deeply passionate about it, it’s just not as prevalent in Buenos Aires and has not been marketed and exported as, for example Tango has. That is definitely starting to change with Che Malambo – we are now touring around the world.

MM: What inspired you to become involved with Che Malambo?

MF: When we all first met Gilles Brinas, the founder and artistic director of Che Malambo, we were somewhat skeptical, what was a Frenchman from a classical ballet background going to do with Malambo?! But, I also appreciated that he had a clear vision and it was very different than anything we had seen before. We also respected that he followed this vision all the way from France to Argentina with the purpose of creating a show that highlighted the traditional folkloric elements of Malambo but presented in a choreographic way that carries for a full performance and packaged and presented in a way that is exciting and engaging for audiences. Gilles is equally respectful of us and the origins of Malalmbo. He does not claim to know how to dance every step of Malambo so the creation process is very collaborative, but the form, tone and overall vision is clearly his. He has crafted a show that presents the art form in a way that has never been seen before. While some purists might not be 100% on board with it, has been wildly successful and has brought lots of attention to the art form which means so much to us all. I will never forget standing on the stage of a sold-out New York City Center after our New York City debut when the entire audience jumped to their feet with applause at the end of the show. Who would have ever thought that Malambo would be received with such enthusiasm in New York City!

MM: Can you please tell us a bit about the show? What can audiences expect?

Matthew Bledsoe (MB): In a nutshell, Malambo is the music and dance of the Gauchos or South American cowboys. Che Malambo takes that and puts it into staged performance that is fresh and engaging for today’s audiences. It is a spectacle of fast paced footwork, intricate drumming rhythms, singing and tons of energy that is contagious. It’s really a show for everyone; people who are dance aficionados appreciate it and are usually excited to see a dance form they are completely unfamiliar with. Music fans will love the rhythm and the songs of the Gauchos from Argentina, and even if you are not particularly a music or dance fan, it’s simply a thrilling show for audiences of all ages. People have said we are the “Stomp” of South America or Argentina’s answer to the Irish dance show – “Lord of the Dance.” Maybe that will set the tone of what to expect. If one wants to look deeper into the history of Malambo and the different cultures around the world that have had an influence on it, that will give audiences an even deeper appreciation and understanding of what we are doing. The oldest form of Malambo was danced barefoot, then the Spaniards brought boots to Argentina, so boots where incorporated into the dance, predominately in the north of the country. Of course, there are clear influxes of Flamenco as well. The boleadoras (a lasso of sorts) that we use as a musical instrument and prop were originally used as a hunting tool or to stop a calf that had strayed away from the heard by throwing it and entailing the legs of the prey or stray cattle. The drums we use, the bombo, get their origin from West Africa and were brought by slaves through Portugal, to Brazil and then into Argentina in the late 1500s. Even some of our rhythms are of West African descent. In the early 1800’s there was an influx of Irish immigrants that moved to Argentina and having worked as sheep headers in Ireland, they naturally were in contact with the Gauchos so some of the kicks and high stepping movements we do, come from Irish step dance.

MM: Why is the ‘Che Malambo’ dance so special?

MB: I think what I mentioned above kind of sums that up but, I think people are most impressed with the sections where we dance with the boleadoras – it’s quite wild.

MM: How did you go about getting this work staged? What were some of the most challenging aspects of creating this production?

MF: Lots and lots of rehearsal! Our director and the founder of Che Malambo was a ballet dancer so the perfection of the group dances is very important to him and key to the overall success of the show. In the beginning, it was difficult to feel ourselves as one group, a corps de ballet, and not as individuals. Malambo was originally an individual dance or a dual between two dancers so the group sections, took some getting used to!

MM: What kinds of projects do you hope to work on from here? Career wise, where do you hope to be in ten years?

MB: I am happy with the path we are on. We are performing in incredible places all around the world. Being able to share our art form with appreciative audiences and having the opportunity to travel the world is about as good as it gets. Long term, I hope that more people know about Malambo and our culture and ultimately, I hope Che Malambo becomes a household name.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

MB: Come see us perform, I promise you won’t regret it!

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To learn more about Che Malambo, visit their official website. To see a video of them in action, see here