Darkness. Prepare to be immersed in a spicy infusion of dance and sound, but don’t think for a second that this is a musical.
Curtain rises and on stage you see their silhouettes, but before you can work out who is where or what’s about to unfold the drum roll starts. Sudden, intense, they beat their drums in time with your heartbeat, immediately you feel part of their troupe and part of the show. Red lights rise as the cast of 12 hammer hard on their drums in perfect unison. It’s tribal and electric in a way that hooks you and you will likely never hear again on stage.
The show is a blend of precise footwork, rhythmic stomping, drumming and song which originated way back in the 17th century pampas – the wide, treeless plains in South America. The hallmark of Malambo is zapeteo, the fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses.
As they dart from side to side you hear the clicking of their heels and drumsticks against the harsh booms of the drum. The pace quickens and you find yourself holding your breath with every pause waiting for the next explosion of movement. A team of 12 drums are bound to make an impact and you’ll find yourself asking is this a follow the leader or are they possessed by the drums? I found it may be the latter, the drums leading them as they face off against one another. So let’s reduce it to one drum and see what happens.
The majority of the show rests on the shoulders of one man and one drum. The cast answer to this singular beat and answer its calls in time. And when the drum softens you think what could be next. Now enter the guitar. As he plucks the strings so delicately the stomping reverberates around the room bringing your focus back to their very literal happy feet.
Then something a lot quieter but that immediately hushes all the other noise. A single man stands on stage, barefoot. Stomping and making sounds that I’ll admit I winced at. The ferocity with which he attacks the dance is so raw, it’s primal and addictive to watch. Now take away instruments and simply give a man a stone on a lasso.
At first you think, what on earth is this for? But that first whooshing sound in the silence of the auditorium is enough to make everyone sit back and listen. As he flings and slaps the floor with both his feet and now this bolesdora (lasso) you’re introduced to a whole new sound. It’s exciting, it’s energetic and different. As the lights shine on the spinning string you feel hypnotised. Is this man really doing this? Is he truly creating art, sound, and movement with something so trivial. The simple answer is yes and understandably this gets the biggest cheer of the night so far.
The show goes from one level to the next. Its vibrancy growing, your adrenaline pumping as they continue to draw you further in. And by the time we reach our finale you’re already blown away, but then we get everything. The drums, the ropes and the cult-like performance but ten-fold.
It’s intense certainly but not without its elements of humour. Although nothing is said their mannerisms and charisma on stage is like everything has been spoken. You know how they are feeling in that dance, you can sense the mood and you feel it down to your toes.
All in all it’s a somewhat simple set up, a group of men, their drums, only the sound of their shoes to fill the auditorium. But were there to be more music, speech and a definitive story line I fear it would distract from the true art that they put out.
It’s an intimate experience, hard to do in the size of an auditorium but in doing so is more powerful. Never have I heard an entire audience silenced within seconds to hear the tapping of toes, to really watch and really listen to what’s shown on stage. It’s a fiery Argentinian experience. There are no words, just sound and just dance. That’s all there needs to be.
Director/Choreographer: Gilles Brinas Venue: London’s Peacock Theatre Dates: July 18th-22nd Duration: 1 hour 30 mins Tickets: 020 7863 8222 / www.peacocktheatre.com
Watch the trailer below for a taste of Che Malambo: