Even tango can be politicized

  • 2005-11-16
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The opening night of an avant garde tango performance on Nov. 14 that included patriotic Soviet songs so repulsed the Latvian part of the audience that approximately 100 people walked out of the National Opera House. Tangomania, a Latvian-Russian production brought to Riga by Vladimirs Resetovs opened to a full house. The title was "Astor visits Oskars," since one of the aims of the performance was to connect Astor Piazzolla, one of Latin America's most well-known performers, with Oskars Stroks, who lived for many years in Riga and whose contributions to tango were reportedly heard as far as the Balkans.
But the innocuous title of the bilingual performance hid a number of controversial elements that ended up driving out much of the Latvian audience.

After a short introduction accompanied by a piano-playing segue, the performance kicked off with band music and singing by Intars Busulis, winner of this year's New Wave concert.

Busulis sang some jazz songs in Latvian, followed by a choreographed dance that vaguely resembled the Argentinean dance but was quite nice regardless.

Finally, a Russian singer named Nina Shatska stepped on stage and was backed up by a Russian orchestra. Singing in her native Russian, and without a microphone, she captivated the audience with her powerful voice. The microphone was eventually turned on.

Then, Shatska began to sing a nostalgic number about the Soviet Union. Though the exact content escaped this writer, it made a harsh impression on the audience. Immediately people began to leave the theater. Row after row cleared out, and in the end perhaps 100 people had left.

Audience was hailing the Soviet army and remembering the fallen liberators of WWII, one person at the performance explained.

Normally many locals would sit and suffer through a bad performance 's one astute observer termed the Latvian behavior "long suffering" 's so the mass exodus at the Monday night performance was unusual.

Ilze Skutkevica, a woman who attended the event, wrote on the notikumi.lv Web site in an open letter to Tangomania's director: "Did it not enter your mind, and did no one inform you that in this very meaningful time for Latvia 's between two very dear days of remembrance 's Lacplesis' Day [Nov. 11 's ed.] and the day the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed [Nov. 18], that singer Nina Shatska's chosen repertoire was at least unsuitable and distasteful?"

The song did not appear to be related to tango, so how, this reporter wonders, did it appear in Tangomania?

The performance ended soon afterwards with sporadic and weak applause. From where this writer sat, it didn't appear that the animosity set off by Shatska's singing had anything to do with language, or the performer's culture, but the praising of Soviet troops who, for most people here, were anything but liberators.

As events often show here in the Baltics, the painful past is ever present.