The curtain call is usually the moment when performers can finally relax after a hard night’s work, loosening up and dropping the mask to reveal a bit of their true selves as they bask in the audience’s applause.
But when the cast of “Forever Tango’’ took their bows on opening night at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, they remained as formal as they had been all evening, with few if any traces of smiles evident on their faces.
That intensity was in keeping with the show they’d just performed, and with the tradition of the Argentine tango. Though it celebrates the power of fiery, heedless passion, “Forever Tango’’ is suffused throughout with an aura of focused professionalism and absolute concentration.
That adds up to a display of proficiency without much personality in the show’s first half, when the performers make scant effort to draw in the audience. But after intermission “Forever Tango’’ turns into something special: its routines more challenging; the dancers’ movements still precisely controlled but also more fluid, dynamic, and communicative; their intertwined limbs virtually melding two bodies into one as they sweep across the stage.
Conceived by Luis Bravo long before “Dancing With the Stars’’ was so much as a gleam in a network programmer’s eye, “Forever Tango’’ has proven durably popular, ending its most recent Broadway run in September. Bravo is at the helm for the touring production that will be in Boston through Saturday, and he’s also in the orchestra, playing the cello.
Six male-female duos perform more than a dozen tango routines in “Forever Tango,’’ attired in a shimmering array of elegant dresses and suits created by costume designer Argemira Affonso. The dances are punctuated by evocative instrumental numbers performed by the fine orchestra, assembled onstage. Pianist Jorge Vernieri proved to be a particular crowd favorite on opening night. Less effective was vocalist Noemi Marcela, whose singing was often nearly drowned out by the orchestra.
The dancers choreographed the tango routines themselves, and they perform them with disciplined technique and plenty of dazzling footwork. Their physical vocabulary relies on rapidly crossed ankles and scissoring legs and languidly stretched-out arms; on spins, twirls, and sudden kicks; on stomping and striding, slow-motion swoons and swift-paced back-and-forths. In one visually striking scene, when Aldana Silveyra and Diego Ortega were entwined, Silveyra allowed her long hair to cling to his head.
While Bravo likes to describe the tango as “a story you tell in three minutes,’’ the truth is that “Forever Tango’’ would benefit from more variety in the stories it tells. There is a fundamental sameness to the emotional arc of a number of the tangos, which are enacted with fixed, urgent expressions that suggest everything is riding on this dance, or at least one particular thing, impossible to mistake. (After one smoldering duet, my companion remarked, “They need to get a room.’’)
In Act 1, “El Suburbio’’ attempts a larger narrative than straightforward romance and seduction, presenting a scene in a brothel that features suggestively clad women and pinstriped, fedora-wearing tough guys. But a potentially intriguing power struggle dissolves into a farrago of clichés that ultimately generates less tension than the fight scenes Jerome Robbins choreographed for “West Side Story.’’
Act 2 gets off to a strong start with “Tanguera,’’ a duet performed by Soledad Buss and César Peral, and electricity steadily courses through “Forever Tango’’ from that point on. Ariel Manzanares and Natalia Turelli bring some welcome comic relief throughout the show. In one sequence, Manzanares keeps attempting to take pictures of the orchestra with a clunky, old-fashioned camera; later, he parodies the melodramatic seething of the tango dancers. Turelli clings to his back, allowing herself to be dragged as he walks across the stage, and when she tries to steal just a bit of the spotlight by making grand gestures, he quickly returns her hand to his shoulder.
In “Quejas de Bandoneón,” Sebastián Ripoll and Mariana Bojanich succeed in creating a pair of distinct personalities while also generating an air of mystery tantalizing enough that you’re left wondering what kind of future awaits these lovers once the dance is over.
At the end of “Forever Tango,’’ after the cast took their bows, they delivered one final display of their impressive dance skills. They still weren’t smiling, but by that time the audience was.