La Mama and Wishing Well Productions
18 January 2011
to 6 February
La Mama opened its Midsumma festival program with Tango Femme, a creation so full of heart and passion that's impossible to leave without adding a ball change or spin to your walk.
Helen has finally accepted her femme side and runs the Golden Apple dance studio where her same-sex group would love to win an upcoming competition, but they lack dancers and Helen's almost had enough of her students not being good enough.
Blended with gorgeous dance numbers that slap the face of convention and celebrate the intimacy, precision and skill of formal dance, the direction shines with stylised over-the-top scenes, but loses momentum in the more serious moments when the mixed experience of the cast is more obvious.
The strength of the script lies in its complex and recognisable characters who never resort to stereotype, even if two of them don't do much. There's a terrific story in there, but it gets lost in the discussions about it being OK to be butch or femme or ballroom dancing reflecting the patriarchy or lesbians like Gertrude Stein and kd Lang who like to wear trousers. Is there anyone at a Midsumma festival play at La Mama who needs convincing? It was far more interesting when the talk turned to more controversial issues like drag kings looking like 12-year-olds in backwards baseball caps.
For all it's celebration and heart, the script would benefit from more guts. Everyone is so nice that any conflict is quickly resolved with a discussion, an apology and a hug, leaving the story no where to go. Drama fizzles without conflict. We want to see people make stupid choices, we want to take sides and cringe at the times we behaved like that. Leave being kind and understanding to real life; make everything as difficult as possible in our stories.
Tango Femme isn't quite Strictly Ballroom (which was an amazing NIDA-created play before it was a film), but it's two-stepping in the right direction.
This review appears on AussieTheatre.com