Che Malambo from Argentina performed on Thursday night at SPAC.
The muscle and majesty of the gaucho was on vivid display at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Thursday night. That’s when Che Malambo, the virtuosic percussive group from Argentina, dazzled the crowd with the stomp of its feet and the beat of its drums.
On a bare, but well-lit stage, the 14-member, all-male ensemble wielded so much power and energy that by the end of the evening the audience was whipped into euphoria. And the dancers and musicians of Che Malambo loved it – performing with more smiles and fancier and well-placed footwork as the cheers grew louder and the whooping more frequent. Between the drums, the whirling bolas and the fascinating footwork, Che Malambo created a percussive, heart-throbbing scene.
Malambo is a rhythmic stomping dance that originated with the gaucho on the pampas. A competitive sport, it is meant to display strength and stamina among those who practice it. Not surprisingly, it oozes with machismo. With their chests and chins thrusting forward, the dance depicts solid, manly men.
The curtain opened with all 14 pounding on large hand-held drums called bombos. As the rhythms drew the listeners in, the men began to display their stomping that echoed or heightened the beat of the drum.
Wearing heeled boots, the dance looked like a combination of tap, Irish step and flamenco, but with more ruggedness and attitude. There were also many twists of the torso. And dressed in all black, the men appeared wildly menacing and rebellious, willing to fight to the death for their honor and supremacy on the Argentinian plains.
The men also brandished bolas, the throwing weapon that gauchos perfected to lasso prey or horses. With the lights perfectly placed on their balled ropes, they swung them around with laser precision, creating an atmosphere that was both hypnotic and threatening.
While everything was pumped with a shot of espresso, one section of the program featured a quiet guitar. While the relief was probably needed on both sides of the curtain, it felt out of place and fairly dull.
The dancing and drumming was the highlight, especially when the men battled with each other – trying to outdo complicated rhythms. But as the show wore on, the mask of machismo faded into a love fest with the audience. There were smiles all around and ended with a group photo with the audience, jumping and howling, in the background.