Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 24, 2018

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Che Malambo

Berkshire Theatre Group, Pittsfield, MA
April 22, 2018
By Josephine Sarnelli

The performance by Che Malambo had all the attributes of a championship sporting event: athleticism, agility, team work, competition, and shear exhilaration! The program was a percussive explosion with fast precision footwork, Argentinian bombos drums and the striking of metal tipped boleadoras. The footwork (zapateado) was accompanied in some pieces with hand clapping (palmas), giving it a Flamenco flavor.

Overall these 12 male performers offered a blend of highly trained sophistication with the excitement of street dancing.  Costuming was minimalistic black throughout, so as not to distract from the dancing and rhythms.

Photo by Diane Smithers
The opening featured 12 performers drumming and dancing simultaneously.  The accompanying footwork was complicated, with some even performing while standing on the toe of their boots; a technique often demonstrated in contemporary percussive Celtic dancing by women. The one-upmanship became more intense as groups confronted one another and conversed through competing rhythms. The piece ended with a cohesive, tight choreography of the men once more unified.

The next routine offered subtler sounds from the soloist’s slapping of his bare feet on the wooden stage floor. He executed an excellent “over the top” jump that was reminiscent of Gene Kelly. Once joined by other barefoot members of the troupe, they all together juxtaposed high martial arts kicks with gentile Argentine Tango forward ochos.

In another set, a guitarist sang several pieces, some accompanied by a drummer. Several members joined to establish the percussive background with their hand clapping and footwork. 

About midway through the 90-minute program, a soloist entered with boleadoras, a lasso with metal tips affixed. Originally used as weapons by the gauchos, it has evolved into a spectacular art form. Much like the fire-lit pois seen in Polynesian dance performances, these appeared to have LED lighting, which enhanced the overall effect. They became hypnotic as they twirled through complex patterns and stuck the wooden floor rhythmically.

The second portion of the program fused all the percussive techniques together: footwork, drumming, and boleadoras. At times the rapid pace sounded like the finale of a fireworks show. The well-deserved standing ovation led to a dazzling encore.