Sunday 17 October 2010

Festivalito con Amigos, Saarbrücken

Some fairly typical buildings opposite my hotel
This is an annual event organised by Tangokombinat in their collective home town of Saarbrücken in south-west Germany. It's a  small-scale festival, but very international (it's an easily-accessible central European location, with good organisation and aims for a good quality of dance, so a lot of people go there). There are four milongas over three days.

All photos in this post are mine, none of the videos are.

Disclosure: I know some of the organisers and regard them as friends (albeit not people I see all the time or whose personal stories are any of my damn business).

The Workshops: I didn't take any (although I had planned to - my partner fell ill). So I can't say much about them. They had three sets of people giving the workshops, two from Argentina and one from Amsterdam, I'll mention them all later.

Layout and Atmosphere: There were four milongas, each in a different location. It would take too long to describe each location in detail, especially as the chances are it will change next year. They are all within easy walking distance of the centre of town. There were two big ones at night and two small ones in the day time.

Dancing in the Johanneskirche
It started on Friday night at Gemeindezentrum Alte Kirche - a good sized (but only barely large enough) rectangular hall-type space with tables on three sides, comfortable seating and a very nice floor. On Saturday afternoon there was a small milonga in Mutanth Studio, Karcherstraße - this is a bright, airy little dance studio with mirrors at one end and seating off the dance floor. It was packed (advance booking is essential or you will not be able to get in) and getting off the dance floor was a bit like changing trains at Oxford Circus in the rush hour; but the intimacy helped people get into it more. On Saturday night there was a ball - 'ball' seems more appropriate than 'milonga' given the layout and the magnificence of the space - at the Johanneskirche, which is the German-industrial-town equivalent of a Victorian Gothic church. You're sitting at a table or in a pew facing the dancefloor, or maybe on a raised platform at some distance from it, which is great for watching but not ideal for finding the partner you want for this specific dance. Finally, there was a daylight-to-dinner one at Theater Blauer Hirsch, which is a sort of cross between a pub/bar and a theatre - it's small, with the floor where the audience would sit for a play, with the tables at one end, and you walk through a pleasant bar. It was very prettily decorated with candles and autumn leaves - picture below. This was my favourite space, and is the one where they do their Christmas milonga.

Hospitality: Ok to excellent, depending on the venue. On Friday night, lots of water, juices, other drinks and some nibbles were included, and substantial sandwiches were sold for €2. On Saturday afternoon, lots of water and soft drinks and cake were all included. At the Johanneskirche all liquid refreshments including bottled water were for sale (but very reasonable - big bottles) in aid of the church building fund - you could get tap water if you needed it - and there seemed to be some cake included in the entry price. The Theater Blauer Hirsch sold good food (although it ran out), beer and other drinks and coffee for very reasonable prices, again there was a charge for bottled water, but you could get drinking water out of the taps if you needed it. The facilities were in all in order although I did have to queue briefly at the Johanneskirche.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There were some short-and-sweet performances from the teaching couples. I found these quite interesting; they were all close-embrace-only tango but with markedly different and distinctive personal styles. At the Johanneskirche, Sebastian Coli Bazzini and Josephine Boza were youthful, leggy and well-glued. RodolfoEl Chino” Aguerrodi dances with a facial expression of deep distress, as though this is his last dance ever; his partner Miho Omaki as though she's President of the Freedom to Party Party. It was compelling, for me. At the Friday night milonga, Antonio Martinez siezed the mike and made a long announcement paying tribute to Detlef and Melina and how much he appreciated their way of dancing, then proceeded (with Francesca Bertelli) to do a demo that was really quite reminiscent of them but at the same time quite different. It all went on for  quite a while due to announcements being made in at least three languages, but I didn't mind. Anyway, I also enjoyed watching them all socially and I like the thing they do at the end where all the organising and teaching couples do one dance all at once like a mini-milonga - so I'll embed this one:

Christian Tobler and his DJ display
What I thought of the DJing: It's 100% traditional, tandas, cortinas, people clear the floor for cortinas. On Friday I felt Christian Tobler front-loaded the energy a bit, it got people started but those who arrived later found it a bit harder to get going. It was all good though and I liked his ingenious track information display. Andreas Wichter DJd on Saturday afternoon, I was dancing nearly all the time. At the Johanneskirche it was Andrea Degani, at Theater Blauer Hirsch it was Uwe Willié. I had no problems with any of it. It wasn't all the same by any means, there were experiments, I liked parts of it much more than others, and at some times they played music that was pretty demanding to dance to well and you can only really play when you have confidence in the dancers. Having them be able to do that was part of the fun. They were all professional DJs-for-dancers.

Getting in: The pass for all four milongas was €40. It's essential to book early or you won't be able to get in to the smaller ones. You need to bring the pass with you and have it marked for each milonga.

Getting there and getting home: I stayed at the City Hotel, and walked happily to and from all the milongas. Some of those on a tighter budget stayed in a youth hostel which is less central but it's still all perfectly walkable.

As for getting to Saarbruecken itself, you can fly to Trier and take a train from there, but I took the Eurostar directly from London. You change trains in Paris (there's a five-minute walk from Gare du Nord to Gare de L'Est) and Saarbruecken is the first stop on the inter-city-express to Frankfurt. It's only just beyond the French border, and French is quite widely spoken there, I heard it often in restaurants. The train from London to Saarbruecken takes between five and six hours in total depending on how much time you spend stopping over in Paris. Morning trains get you there between lunchtime and teatime, having lost an hour to the time difference; an 8am train home got me back in my flat for lunch. Flying such a short distance is significantly slower, what with faffing about at airports, but it's much much cheaper.

The website: and Neither gets updated very frequently [Edit: Melina reckons weekly, but if you want to know where she and Detlef are and what's going on, I'd recommend following them on Facebook, plus you get the Extreme Ironing and miscellaneous banter. Edit: added FB link.] but there's usually a downloadable PDF with the complete programme, addresses and everything.
La Despedida at Theater Blauer Hirsch

How it went:   Really well, for me. It was long enough for me to really get into it. I danced with many friends, from home and abroad, fine dancers and delightful people. There were so many lovely dancers from so many places. Mostly I had bits of a language in common with them, sometimes we could find two that were mutually semi-intelligible for between-dance remarks, I enjoy that. The quality of dancing generally was high, and although there were some who were not so skilled, and there was much variation in personal style, there weren't really any clueless showoffs bouncing about causing problems for other people. I saw one significant bump, and I had a few touches, more at the evening than the daytime milongas - the floors were pretty crowded a lot of the time. My favourite was the last one, which felt particularly happy. I personally prefer the smaller spaces to the larger ones, as in the larger ones I find it harder to circulate and dance with the people I want to - I find them a little disorienting and develop a tendency to hide. Plus I think they make some people very tense, especially if crowded, and that's not good for bumps. But some people probably have the opposite preference, it depends on your social character.

The seams were getting a bit tight in places, and they want this festival to stay fairly small with a relatively intimate atmosphere, so it's likely the format will change a bit over the next few years. Possibilities include changing the mix of venues, or dropping the workshops and going more in the 'tango-marathon' direction; any or none of those things might happen. They also do an event at Christmas, check the website for details.


ghost said...

"It was all good though and I liked his ingenious track information display."

Could you elucidate further? :o)

msHedgehog said...

@ghost, click on the picture for a closer look, you can see it fairly well - that's all I have on it really, I think it may be his own software.

ghost said...

Clicking on it doesn't seem to work. I tried blowing up the image from a screen grab, but the writing is illegible :(

Patrick said...

Christian just prepares the dtp-files for this, they are not generated "on-the-fly". At least not yet :)

There is a "T/V/T/T/M/T" on the top, so you can see, if the next tanda is Tango, Vals or Milonga. The same for "instrumental" and "singer"

Then he writes the name of the orchestra, the singer, and the names of the songs with each year.

And in the right bottom corner, there is something like "next tanda: Osvaldo Pugliese". Very useful indeed, so you can catch eyecontact even before music begin...:)

ghost said...

Very cool

Thanks :o)

msHedgehog said...

@Patrick, thanks! I enjoyed it, although one person told me he found it a bit disorienting - it messed up his system (which is to listen to the first bars of the music before looking for a partner). Which I can understand.
@ghost, I'll email you the hi-res file.

cindy said...

i had mixed feelings about it... on one hand i knew when i could take a break~ but, i missed the delicious feeling of anticipation of the first few notes of the first song of a tanda, waiting to hear what it is.
sweet festivalito. i would have liked to meet you, ms h!

msHedgehog said...

@cindy - yes, I have some sympathy with that view. In practice, I found I mostly looked at it to find out what had just played rather than what was about to play, but of course it may matter that other people do the opposite. Email me for next time, and we'll work something out :)

cindy said...

yes! i will :)