Sunday, 9 November 2008

Carablanca @ Conway Hall

My review for this new milonga was from its first night, so I thought I'd better update it. Actually it's an old milonga reincarnated, with a new venue and a new name, but under the same management of Danny, Diana and friends. My previous review, with recent reader comments, is here. It's on most Friday nights from 20:30 till midnight, but until January they still won't have the venue for all the Fridays, so check the website, and tango-uk for announcements. [UPDATE 13-Jan-09: they now have a continuous booking, so it's every Friday and you probably only need to check around the holiday season.]

The Class: I skipped the class. Danny and Diana teach a beginners' class in another room, while the intermediate class is always given by guests. This week it was Kicca Tommasi and Julio Mendez, who usually teach at the Dome. I've taken a class with them once before, and it included some valuable technique stuff for both leaders and followers, especially on close embrace.

Layout and Atmosphere:Conway Hall from the front The building is the large, handsome meeting hall of the South Place Ethical Society, and has its own website. Assuming you come in before 10pm, so by the front door, you come into roomy tiled foyer with benches along the walls. You can sit out here to cool off and have little breakout chats. The main room for dancing is large and square, with a proper stage, not used by the milonga, at the far end, a square glass skylight, and a suspended gallery with a square clock above the entrance. It has a geometric, dark-wood feel which makes me think of British neoclassicism and Arts-and-Crafts both at the same time. It's just what you'd imagine for an Ethical Society. I think that the floor being more or less square instead of rectangular makes it slightly harder to develop a clear line of dance, especially given that this is London and a lot of people don't know they're supposed to, or don't care. But that might be just my imagination. It's roomy, and I had hardly any bumps. The air conditioning was on, it was cold outside, and one of my partners still had a freezing cold nose at 11pm. "I'm a mediterranean person!" he said.

The floor has been cleaned since this milonga started, and is much better. The brass circles are less slippery, and the lighter colour lifts the room.

The lighting seems to be built with lighting the stage in mind, rather than the room as a whole, and they're still working on how to adjust it. At the moment the average quantity is about right, but there's a dark patch and a light patch. They'll get it sorted out, but it will probably take a while.

Hospitality: Very good. There are rails to hang your coat on, on the far side of the room - not quite enough, but some. I tucked my handbag underneath a bench. The tables, with their bright red tablecloths, have expanded a little on each side and you can sit down whenever you need to, or go into the foyer to cool off. Plentiful free water is in jugs on a table; pens are provided to write your name on your plastic cup so you don't have to keep getting new ones. Drinks are available from a makeshift bar; my G&T with ice and slice of citrus was £3. The loos are well-lit, properly supplied, and quite roomy, they stayed clean and dry all evening, and it is quite feasible to change your clothes and shoes in there.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Kicca and Julio gave a performance. They have great chemistry, and I liked their choreography with the music. They dolled themselves up, delivered two tangos and a milonga which were all significantly different from each other, gracefully accepted their applause, then cleared off to put proper clothes back on and gave the floor back to the social dancers.

What I thought of the DJing: DJs here vary, but almost always play traditional music in tandas, with cortinas. This week it was Nikki Preddy, who did a decent job. The sound system here is better than most, and so far I think I've always heard the music properly from all parts of the room, often not the case elsewhere. [Update Summer 2011 - I think that was probably true when I wrote it, but it's deteriorated markedly and now it usually often sounds muffled to me. I can't be absolutely sure how much of this is due to DJs, and how much is due to wear and tear on connectors, speakers, etc, but it's become a fairly consistent intermittent problem. Nowadays the large speakers above the stage are not normally used, for some technical or logistical reason. Instead there are smaller ones on stage. Muffled sound at high volume tends to make people talk louder, and it spirals down. On the other hand, they now quite often hire professional guest DJs, and are going in that direction. Further update after a bit more research: The sound quality was good when they had La Rubia, and when they had Bernhard Gehberger, and also it was good when Beto did it a couple of weeks ago, so I'm assuming it's mainly the DJs. Danny, who runs it tells me they're working on some future guidelines for DJs]

Getting in: normally £8.50, £10 if there is a performance. Cheaper if you just want to take the class.

Conway Hall as you approach itGetting there and getting home: From Holborn tube, take the right hand exit. Don't cross at the crossing in front of you, but instead walk right, to the next one, and cross over to the corner where the yellow sign says "Gym Box" and the office block makes a bridge across the road. Walk under the bridge and you will soon pass the Square Pig (which has a milonga on Mondays). The trees now in front of you are in Red Lion Square. The front door of Conway Hall is in the furthest corner, so walk round two sides of the square to reach it. If you arrive after 10pm, you will have to use the back door. In that case, [instead of turning into the square] continue past [the trees] it to the next street, which is Theobalds Road, turn right, and you're there when you get to the Humanist window displays. It closes at midnight and the last Tubes are at about twenty past; if you dawdle enough to miss the train, you can get buses in many directions from nearby. Or you could walk down the road for ten minutes and continue your evening at Negracha.

The website: dead simple, gives you what you need. Scroll down for information on beginners' classes, and download the PDF flyer (now fixed, and works properly) for the schedule.

How it went: This is not the fashionable Friday night milonga; that would be Negracha, down the road. The crowd here is usually less demanding as to personal beauty, but a lot more demanding as to comfort, quality of DJ, and value for money, and that means it tends to consist of older dancers, plus a few younger people like me who want to have a nice dance but really can't be bothered to wait for it till after midnight. But this varies a lot depending on who the guest teachers are. It's still quite new, and hasn't settled down. I got good dances, had a comfortable, stress-free evening, and got to sit down and chat to friends during tandas that didn't appeal. It suits me fine.

Update: Added this video from July 2009: Mingo and Esther Pugliese dance tango, and you get a sense of what the space is like when fully lit.

1 comment:

Mathieu said...

Thanks for the review: looking forward to having some options when coming out of Holborn tube on a Friday night :)