Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Survival, passion, resilience and tango

Sergio Trujillo’s rock-opera ballet Arrabal heats up the coldest winter night

Dancers Soledad Buss and Micaela Spina are rivals in Arrabal. Credit: Eugenio Mazzinghi

In lieu of blustery February snow squalls, picture warm breezes and cloudless skies, Art Deco storefronts grazed with colourful spray-paint and tree-lined avenues acting as a dappled canopy to sidewalk cafés and restaurants. As the sun wanes, throngs of well-dressed locals freshen up before heading out again for a late dinner and an evening of music and visceral, passionate dance.

That’s Buenos Aires. And that’s some of the steamy summer atmosphere Sergio Trujillo will recreate in Toronto for the world premiere of his dance spectacle Arrabal.

A fusion of Trujillo’s award-winning choreography and the musical genius of multiple Academy- and Grammy Award–winner Gustavo Santaolalla and his band Bajofondo, Arrabal is a coming-of-age story set in Argentina during the tumultuous “Dirty War” era.

For those of us who thought that Argentina’s greatest political moments were canonized in 1996 by Madonna in the movie Evita, Arrabal will provide a humbling reeducation.

In the period between 1976 and 1983, approximately 30,000 Argentine people suspected of political dissidence against the dictatorship government literally vanished — many abducted from their beds in the middle of the night — never to be seen again.

But beyond the gruesome details, choreographer/creator Trujillo uses this Argentine history to tell a greater story — one of survival, passion and resilience.

“In Argentina, every single person has been touched by the Dirty War,” he says in a recent phone interview between preview performances. “My hope is that Arrabal will show the perseverance of this culture, to have gone through such history, such politics, such a monstrous period of murder and come out of it in the remarkable way that they have.”

Arrabal was created over three years in Buenos Aires with local dancers and musicians in a converted warehouse outside the city centre. The 22 cast members are all from Argentina; few speak any English.

“I’ve never done a show like this before,” says Trujillo, who was thrilled to have the opportunity to have this world premiere in his hometown of Toronto. “Where we started, it was all warm and beautiful, and here, it’s a big . . . well, snowball. Everyone is having an interesting time adjusting!”

All this effort to transport the heat of Argentina to Toronto audiences in time for Valentine’s Day. But Trujillo is careful to point out that Arrabal is much more than a period-piece dance recital: “Arrabal is a unique experience, a total rock-opera ballet. It’s not like a musical; it’s like a movie. You keep going through it, moment to moment, steering away from a typical tango show. I’m not trying to make a musical; I’m trying to show the truth of the culture, the truth of the dance, trying to create its own identity.”