An American Tango travels through time at The Broad Stage
On Saturday, the Santa Monica College Broad Stage was illuminated by the music, dancers and dazzling colors of “An American Tango,” a ballet that tells the love story and journey of one of America’s greatest ballroom dance couples, Frank and Yolanda Veloz.
Those attending the show were treated to a whirlwind of technicolor artwork and lighting, nostalgia for dance and music of the twentieth century, and dancing that defied the conventional notions of ballet.
The ballet completely restrained from dialogue between the dancers. The entire story was narrated solely by the character named Auggie, played by Joseph Fuqua.
Against the backdrop of the late 1920s, the ballet charted the rise of Frank and Yolanda from humble roots in New York City during the gangster era to glam and glory as dancing stars in Hollywood.
Film clips were projected on giant screens between the scenes enhancing the atmosphere taking the audience through moments and snapshots of Ellis Island, the gangland era, Beverly Hills and Hollywood.
However, “An American Tango” did not only portray Frank’s and Yolanda’s glorious development to famous dancers, but also presented their journey’s dark sides.
It showed how wealth and fame tore the dance partners and lovers apart and depicted Frank’s affair with another woman and Yolanda’s consequent rage and despair.
For Guy Veloz, son of Frank and Yolanda and writer of the ballet, bringing the story of his parents to the stage was a true labor of love and reflection.
“It was a mixture of heaven and hell,” Veloz said during a pre-show reception.
“I can’t even talk about it without getting emotional; I’m crying right now,” he said, with his voice starting to crack. “This show isn’t just about my parents. It’s about an entire era.”
“An American Tango” is not merely about the Veloz family. It also tells the story of music in 20th century America by crossing through different time periods in the scenes and in the accompanying music, which ranges from popular jazz of the 1920s to rock ‘n’ roll conquering the airwaves in the 1960s.
The music in “An American Tango” offered an escape from the kind of products that currently dominate the airwaves.
“A lot of the music being released right now is bad,” Veloz said. “The music companies are pumping out garbage. No one has to even know a musical skill.”
The ballet also introduced the audience to a variety of dance styles, combining classical ballet with popular ballroom dances from the ’20s and ’40s like the tango and Charleston.
“You get to see the whole history of modern dancing in this show,” said director William Soleau. “It was a real challenge to make the ballet dancers look like ballroom dancers. It’s different to go from ballet to social dancing.”
Guy Veloz’ sister, also named Yolanda, is the curator of their parents’ original vintage dance hall costumes and dresses, which are displayed at the performances.
For her, the romance of their parents’ time has not been lost and even impacts the present generation.
“[Young people] will understand the romance of those yesterdays,” she said. “That era may be gone but it’s alive. We can bring it back.”
“An American Tango” was performed on Sept. 21-22 at the Broad Stage. It was produced and presented by the dance company State Street Ballet based in Santa Barbara.