Director Sergio Trujillo does not disappoint with his tango spectacular Arrabal, which had its world premiere at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto.
The show is dark and passionate — everything you’d expect from the visceral world of partnered dance, but with a compelling story and musical score by Academy Award and Grammy winner Gustavo Santaolalla and his band Bajofondo.
Arrabal takes place in late-1970s Buenos Aires, a hotbed of political turmoil during a period known as the Dirty War. It was a time of cultural anxiety and unrest, as anyone suspected of political dissidence toward the ruling dictatorship literally vanished without a trace.
But it was also a time of excitement and uncertainty, as the power and voice of the Argentine people was broadcast internationally until the 1983 reign of terror ended. All 17 dancers and five musicians are from Latin America, and so their connection to this cultural legacy (whether they were alive to experience it firsthand or not) is palpable.
Trujillo uses the lexicon of tango to follow a coming-of-age story through this tumultuous period, informed but not overwhelmed by the ghosts of a troubled past.
Micaela Spina dances the title role of Arrabal with a naiveté and honesty that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. Her angelic performance contrasts perfectly with the guttural intensity of the other cast mates — specifically, when she finds herself caught between two lovers (played by Soledad Buss and Juan Cupini) and she is thrown some serious shade.
The way the cast uses the space and interacts with one another is seamless — as if a single story were being passed from player to player and told in themed vignettes. Witnessing this authentic collaboration is a close second to the spectacle itself. The audience is invited not only into the era depicted, but onto the stage itself after the show ends.
Arrabal expresses so much through movement, body language and musicianship that the absence of words goes completely unnoticed. It successfully traverses the thin line between cabaret and story without dipping into the showy camp of musical theatre, a feat that puts Arrabal into its own category of hybrid spectacle that is as thought-provoking as it is highly entertaining.
Don’t miss it! See the show before it picks up and runs to Broadway.