With pounding drums, claps, shouts, the crack of whips, and the thundering beat of 26 shiny boots, the dynamic men of Argentine dance troupe Malevo stormed into the Berklee Performance Center Saturday night. An official Cultural Ambassador to the National Identity of Argentina, the company specializes in reimagining the country’s centuries-old malambo, a rigorous stomping folk dance traditionally showcasing the skill and virility of gauchos. Malevo infuses the art form with contemporary theatricality and urban percussion.
Created by director, choreographer, and dancer Matías Jaime, the company has performed on stages from Las Vegas to Moscow, as well as a year-long season at Universal Studios Japan and a stint on “America’s Got Talent.” However, the live performance, this one presented by Global Arts Live, is something else: loud, dramatic, and packed with explosive energy and saucy exuberance.
You can see the connection to horsemen in malambo’s high carriage of the upper torso atop intricate, blistering footwork. Feet stomp, scrape, shuffle, and paw at the ground, with hips, knees, and ankles swiveling. High kicks and pivots send the dancers into sharply etched turns dissolving into lunges, sweat flying. There’s a hint of Irish stepdance, a suggestion of flamenco. However, the power comes not in the kind of nuanced expression one might find in flamenco, but in the massed intensity of 13 bare-chested men in unison, face front or shifting in eye-catching patterns across the stage.
The kicker is that the dancers do many of these moves wearing double-headed barrel drums that they pound with the drill-like precision and vigor of a first-class drumline, their elaborate stickwork creating a tight, almost semaphoric choreography with dramatic flair and a kind of gleeful machismo.
Occasionally, a sense of competition arose, a “show me what you’ve got” challenge among the dancers, with groups circling around one another, taking turns in the spotlight. And at one point, dancers trade their boots for bare feet, the slap of skin on floor imparting a poignant vulnerability amid the kicks, twists, and balances.
Midway through comes an impeccably controlled solo with boleadoras. Traditionally a leather cord with a stone on the end used for hunting, two boleadoras in the hands of the gauchos is an elegant art form. As the boleadoras circle and swing, they whir in the air and crack on the floor, creating rhythmic volleys in counterpoint to the footwork. As fingers curl and undulate, arms criss-crossing, the dancer spun and lunged. It seemed like a truly astounding feat — until later, when nearly all the dancers flooded the stage, barely missing one another’s heads with boleadoras flying in intricate patterns. At one point, they seemed to evoke an ominous whirring, clacking machine — this was one time I was happy not to be sitting too close to the front!
The only real frustration was that one too many boleadoras bits may have edged out a contrasting musical interlude by the excellent quartet — bandoneon, guitar/hand drums, violin, and drum set. Their two moments to shine were hodgepodge rambles through styles ranging from Piazzolla to funk, and they were clearly capable of much more. But not only did they expertly fuel many of the routines, their high spirits contributed to the show’s dynamic of unmitigated enthusiasm. Can’t beat that.
Presented by Global Arts Live at Berklee Performance Center, Saturday
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.