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By Robert Farris Thompson


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 March 2006 —Where's the neighbour every Tuesday, my daughter every Sunday and her cousin in a Scottish village the rest of the week? Tango class!

The tango bug, making inroads in many unexpected places, has bitten Northern Europe, and yet for all their enthusiasm, not one of these three people nor their partners got further than page two of Robert Farris Thompson's excellent and lovingly written book published last September. My daughter did admit, however, to having "dipped into" one or two chapters, before abandoning. For this scholarly work by the renowned Yale art historian, part anthropologist, part musicologist, referred to by his friends as RFT, is for specialists. His research is phenomenal.

From the very first chapter, "Tango in Hollywood", references are made to countless films, from the 1950 Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson", to  Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci's 1972 film starring Marlon Brando which the author didn't like one bit, and Regis Warner's Indochine released some twenty years later, which he praises highly but which I did not. However, since this was about the only film I'd seen amongst those quoted, I found confusion settled in from the beginning. But while he was referring to the tango sequences, I, a layman, only recollect a bad film.

However, reading on through the work, this fascinating dissection of tango becomes increasingly impressive. References are taken from works of art, poetry and philosophy, but most of all from African dance. The author, in fact, has made a case for African influence on the tango which might not please everyone, everyone that is, with enough scholarship of their own to contradict him. The amount of information, for instance in chapter three, 'The Cultural Preparation", and again in chapter five, "Milonga: The great Buenos Aires Conversation" is mind-boggling. It is, indeed, a monumental achievement to be recommended to all those who have a passion for the subject. 

The only disappointment was to find no reference to Argentina-born Hector Zaraspe, choreographer of the successful show, Tango Passion, the man who owed his career to Eva Peron and who was ballet coach to Fonteyn and Nureyev for twenty years. But if everyone complained of such omissions, then Mr RFT's book would have been some 700 pages long instead of its 360; and would have taken even longer to read.

Tango : The Art History of Love
By Robert Farris Thompson
Hardcover: 384 pages
Pantheon (20 September 2005)
ISBN: 0375409319

Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor of

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