Updated 6/5/00

El Firulete 
The Argentine Tango Magazine

Forever Luis
by Valorie Hart
Copyright (c) 2000, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

Five years after it first came to San Francisco, Forever Tango returned to the Theater on the Square with joy and happiness for the major achievement of Luis Bravo and his spectacular show. Back in August 1994 when the first issue of El Firulete came to life, it would have been difficult to imagine the success and accomplishments of Forever Tango, which opened in San Francisco one month later. On March 16, 1999, El Firulete's co-editor and Argentine Tango dance instructor Valorie Hart sat at a table at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel's Scala Restaurant with Forever Tango's creator and director Luis Bravo, choreographer and dancer Miriam Larici and partner Alberto Paz, for a personal and enjoyable dinner. Luis, Miriam, Valorie and Alberto candidly talked about the Tango, the show, and the people who believed in it and those who didn't.

Sometimes the emotional drama and intense passion of the Argentine Tango turns into a happy face with a good natured smile. This happened when Hillary Reinis phoned to announce that Forever Tango was returning to the Theater on the Square. A little more than a year before, she solemnly stated that there would never be another Tango show at TOTS.
Luis Bravoís Forever Tango is once again ďhomeĒ at San Franciscoís Theater on the Square. Home, because this is where Forever Tango had its longest run, lasting the now legendary ninety-two weeks. Shortly after leaving San Francisco, Bravo took his beloved creation on a national tour becoming the first Argentino to produce a show on the Broadway stage in New York. The show not only was a hit but it also broke Tango Argentino's record performance on the Great White Way. Now, after five years of successfully touring two companies around the USA and internationally in Italy, England, Mexico, Canada and Japan, he and Theater on The Square owners Hillary and Jonathan Reinis find themselves with a rare six week 
window, to return the show to the stage that was so conducive to forming the quintessential Tango show that Forever Tango has become.
Surprisingly, given the cult-like following that the Argentine Tango tends to spawn, the opening night capacity audience was not made up of a majority of local tangueros. Many say they will see the show again, but seem to be lulled into thinking that these six weeks will extend into another long run. Luis Bravo assures us that this is not the case, since he has already booked the show in Japan, and is only utilizing one company.
The theater was full, and the audience was completely ready to love the show. It is always nice to have a Broadway success precede a production (as well as the Boston Pops /Forever Tango collaboration that was widely televised this past summer on prestigious PBS). The cast and orchestra did not disappoint. After five years of performing, they were accomplished, yet energized and fresh and they gave it their all. Many of them consider San Francisco their home after Argentina, and they seemed genuinely happy to be on the stage here again. 

The familiar set was revealed with the starry night backdrop. The giant bandoneon opened to deliver the athletic silhouette of Cesar Coelho, and Miriam Laricci looking more gorgeous than ever, in her now signature silver dress. A palatable wave of excitement and nostalgia caressed the audience. Then the lights came up on the eleven piece orchestra as it swung into the gorgeous overture. Lisandro 

Adrover at the helm, with some old and new faces, most notably Luis Bravo himself playing cello.
Heís filling in for a week or so, and enjoying every minute of it. When he plays the cello, he is completely relaxed, without a thought to the huge responsibilities of being the director and creator of a hit show. If you read the program notes, you know that Luis is firstly a very accomplished musician, reaping years of accolades for his mastery of the cello. After studying in Argentina, and successfully playing in the most prestigious orchestras, he came to the United States at age twenty-three to study with a very famous teacher by the name of Ron Leonard. At the time, Leonard was not accepting students. This didnít deter Bravo, as he came to Los Angeles with a few letters of recommendation and the chutzpah to find out where Leonard lived, and then went there and knocked on his door. Luis spoke no English then, but managed to convey his desire to study with the celebrated teacher. He showed him his letters of recommendation which meant nothing to Leonard. However, he asked Luis to play for him. The result was that Leonard recognized a rare talent and accepted Luis, who then studied with Leonard for two years. When his money ran out for lessons, Bravo raised the money by doing construction work. One can only imagine a master cello playerís hands doing hard and dangerous labor. To this day Luis considers this experience one of the best in his life. It gives him a total appreciation and involvement with any dedicated and hard working person. 

By this time Bravo was trying to get work as a master cellist, but it was tough going. Also around this time he joined Lisandro Adrover as a guest musician in Tango Argentino. It was then that he began to mastermind the idea to create his show Forever Tango. Luis is very outspoken about the artistic possibilities that the Argentine Tango is capable of representing beyond the simplistic vision of the dance for export that initially appeals to the foreign audiences. He has pushed the envelope of artistic freedom with costumes, hair and makeup design, lighting, colors, choreographed vignettes and rich musical arrangements, that don't attempt to tell the history of the Argentine Tango, but deliver a very polished stage presentation where the Tango is the main protagonist. The fact that he had the vision, the willingness to follow his dream and the money to pay for his production makes him a maverick among the critics and colleagues in his native Argentina. 

Bravo is a visionary, an artist, a risk taker, a hard worker, a strong personality. He has the guts to realize his convictions. He has had (and still has) many detractors. He is aware of those who laughed at him when he first put his ideas forth. They laughed at the idea and expense of an eleven piece orchestra. The laughed at the concept of the giant bandoneon. They laughed at his idea of including older milongueros to partner sizzling Marcela Duran in the sexually suggestive number A Evaristo Carriego. They laughed at the idea of his overseeing the look of the show from Miriamís famous silver dress and beaded headpiece, to the elegant lighting design, not to mention his intense input into the formation of the orchestrations, dance numbers and staging. They scoffed at the idea of including a traditional singer in the form of Carlos Morel for a largely non Spanish speaking audience. They never thought there would be enough work to employ two and sometimes three companies of musicians, dancers and stage crew for so many years. The company payroll has amounted to millions and millions of dollars. At this time Forever Tango has warehouses full of costumes and props and equipment all over the country. Luis reckons that there must be at least five hundred pairs of dance shoes among these things. He didn't dismiss the suggestion of a Forever Tango garage sale. 

By the time Luis reveals his weakness for creme brule, we have learned from him and Miriam that Luis nurtures each dancer in the way of perhaps a version of the old Hollywood star system. For many of the performers, this is their first time away from home. Bravo has given more opportunities and a chance to see the world to many new dancers than anyone else in Argentina. He takes them to his home in the San Gabriel mountains in Southern California and feeds them and lets them rest. He has built a stage in his back yard. He rehearses his precious talent there, often at night under moonlight, so that they will become accustomed to the lighting he has created for the stage. He suggests and provides a myriad of ways to make each performer be at their best, from perhaps a new hairstyle, to working out at the gym to get into condition for the grueling task of eight shows a week. 

So whatís next for the show? Itís as tight and perfect as it can be. Luis says that after five years, heís pretty much taken it as far as it can go. He plans to do a Forever Tango book, narrowing down some of the five thousand or so photos depicting backstage and on stage images. He plans a DVD of the show through Polygram for release in the United States (the DVD and CD have already been released in Japan). 

There is the Asian tour commencing with Japan and then moving onto the Philippines, Korea and China. Of course the inevitable question comes up as to whether he will ever bring the show to Buenos Aires. He is wistful when asked this question. Bravo has truly never received the support or admiration of his countrymen. In fact they have been among the loudest of his detractors. It is both historically classic and ironic that so many artists need to go outside of their home turf to find success and acceptance. Luis has probably employed more Argentine dancers and musicians and crew then any production including Tango Argentino. He has reaped awards, critical acclaim and artistic and financial success. His creation of Forever Tango is largely responsible for refueling the current revival of Argentine Tango, the music and the dance worldwide. 

Luis confesses that after five years of realizing his dream, he is tired. He sleeps only three or four hours a night. Forever Tango has spun off many other business interests and added responsibilities. However, he is first and foremost an artist, and the mere act of creating is the energy that makes him live. A regular home life and family are things he would like too. So as he winds down Forever Tango into the next millennium, he is also working on a new musical for Broadway, a movie and perhaps more time to play the cello at home surrounded by loved ones. Never underestimate the foresight of a visionary.

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