Sunday, 8 June 2008

Carablanca [The Welsh] @ Conway Hall

Conway Hall from the front[Updates:10th Nov 08: new, updated review here. 27th July 08: added pictures of the building. The venue has now changed permanently to Conway Hall.
14th August: added search terms to schedule link.
8th September: They've changed the name to "Carablanca" - updated post title.

Danny and Diana's milonga every Friday at the Welsh Centre has moved for the summer to Conway Hall. Do check before setting out, as they haven't got all the Fridays. You can pick up the leaflet at the Adelaide, Corrientes, the Crypt (any night), the Dome, and Vino Latino's. A good place to check the latest programme online is at the tango-uk yahoo group. People will, of course, continue to refer to the milonga as the Welsh Centre despite it not being at the Welsh Centre, since tangotheargentinoway is too long, and people are not yet used to "Conway Hall". I went along to have a look at the new place.

The class: it was Los Ocampo, who are great, but I had to go home first so I missed it. The regular beginners' and recent beginners' classes can't run here, because there's no room. [The classes restarted in January 09, see website]

Layout and atmosphere: Conway Hall is the home of the South Place Ethical Society, built in 1929 as a place for the Society to hold lectures, meetings, concerts, and whatnot, with 'facilities for refreshment'. You go in and there is a rather fine atrium with a tiled floor, a very handsome desk which is so high the person taking your money has to sit on a bar stool, and pew-like benches around the walls which I found convenient for sitting on to remove my wellies. I was delighted to see from a sign that while we were dancing tango in the main hall, the Amateur Entomologists had the Bertrand Russell Room. The hall is a high, large, wood-panelled, almost square room with a gallery around three sides and a generous stage on the other. It reminded me of the halls of some Victorian schools, but geometrically proportioned in a way that suits the idea of an Ethical Society. It's the sort of room that you could easily imagine serving as a temporary synagogue or mosque. Most of the ceiling is glass skylight, and hanging opposite the stage is a square clock. Above the stage, on the wall, it says, TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE; the application of this advice is left as an exercise for the reader and needn't detain us here.

The floor is dark wood and includes a scattering of surprising, slippery, brass circles about 10cm across. The first one I encountered nearly sent me flying, after that I was fine. Depending on who you dance with, you might want your grippier shoes. The sound was fine, the lighting had a few problems, but it was the first night. There's nowhere to hang your coat - they have to go in a pile on a table - so I recommend a large kitbag. [Update 27-07-08: this has been fixed with a couple of hanger rails.] The familiar red tablecloths from the Welsh Centre cover tables along one side. It was a lot less stuffy than the Welsh Centre, although it didn't feel exactly cool. You can also go into the atrium to chill.

This was the first night, the lighting required emergency repairs, and the atmosphere isn't quite sure what it is yet. It was well attended, and it seemed to me that the crowd was a mixture of the people who normally go to the Welsh, people who find the Welsh too warm, or awkward to get to, and had come to see if they liked the new venue, and people who would normally go to Negracha, just a few minutes walk away, and were trying this as a prelude or instead. I also thought that because the floor is more or less square, the logical line of dance would have to be circular with a huge hole in the middle. This is awkward, doesn't happen naturally, and didn't happen. The outcome of all that was a lot of zigzagging about, and I got more bumps than I would normally get at the Welsh, but fewer and less serious than I would expect at Negracha. I'll be really interested to see how it works out. My instinct would be to put two giant pot-plants, or something, in the middle of the floor, to create a virtual rectangle, but that might be just too strange. It's quite easy and comfortable to sit at a table and watch, and people who did were enjoying themselves. The tiled floors make it possible, if you want to, to wander out and have a little practice session in the atrium or the circular bit of hallway where the loos are; I noticed a couple of beginners I knew using that to puzzle something out.

What I thought of the DJing: pleasant as usual, sprinkling of milonga and vals sets, nothing eccentric, nothing I remember specifically.

Hospitality: Good. Plentiful free water from jugs. Wine and other drinks are available from a makeshift bar in the corner, staffed by various friends. I really like the idea of supplying whiteboard markers so you can write your name (or draw a picture) on your plastic water cup, and not waste them. This was new to me, and very thoughtful. The loos are numerous and supplied, but newish and I think poorly built - not all were in order by the end of the evening.

The website: Here is the website for the milonga, and here is the venue. The history of Conway Hall is quite interesting and the one for the milonga does the job.

Getting in: £8, £10 with class.

Conway Hall as you approach itGetting there and getting home: Map here. Take the right-hand exit at Holborn station, cross the road, and walk to your right past the sushi place. Take the first left, which looks like the entrance to a shopping centre but is actually Procter Street. You will see the Square Pig pub at the corner of Red Lion Square, which has gardens in the middle; Conway Hall is at the corner furthest from you, the entrance slightly hidden. Look up for the sign. When you leave, you may be asked to go out by the other door, in which case go left, then left again to get back on track. It ends at 12:00 so you can get the tube home if you don't fancy walking back past the station and going to Negracha.

How it went: I benefited from what had happened with the mix of people, and had a highly satisfactory night. It will take a while for people to decide whether they like the place, so it develops its own crowd, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

1 comment:

Sophie said...

Carablanca has now reached cruising speed and is definitely giving Negracha a run for its money. I tried it when Stefano and Alexandra of Tango in Action were giving a class and later a performance, the class was well attended and with equal numbers, the milonga was just busy enough for this big hall to not feel empty and the music and lights seem to have found stability. It now holds my preference over Negracha...