There’s a long history of rhythmical spectacles taking on lives as full-length theatrical sensations. Stomp, Tap Dogs and River Dance come to mind. Variations of tapping and percussion develop personalities of their own in shows where no real narrative is presented, rather actions are propelled by the crescendos and waves of sounds. Musical rhythms manifest in human physicality witthout the need for words.
With its troupe of 13 muscular (and often bare-chested) male dancers and four live musicians (situated upstage but still part of the action), Malevo is 80 minutes of Argentine malambo (folk dance of the gauchos/horsemen), powered by a sweaty machismo and geometric formations of bodies.
It mixes flamenco zapateado (stomping) routines with choreographed tableaus on the bombos legueros (round drums usually made of tree trunks) and large unison displays of spinning boleadoras (a leather-covered rock hanging from ropes traditionally used for hunting). When those boleadoras start rotating they fly so fast they look like floating circular holograms!
Malevo opens with an ensemble bombos dance of kaleidoscopic variations – the men even play the instruments of their neighbours and maintain complex rhythms in ever-more difficult combinations of fiery foot work and percussive choreography.
But such intensity cannot be sustained for an entire show and Malevo finds quieter solo moments and musical interludes to break up wild group displays. Of course, it all revolves back to turbo-charged masculine energy and the patterns of the revolving boleadoras. Whether as a solo or in groups, those spinning ropes seem to defy gravity with their ever-faster and layered displays.
Costumes stick to tight black trousers or white fringe pants (harking to the cowboy/gaucho history on display). When the men are not topless, clingy, wet-look, black shirts – sometimes wide open; sometimes buttoned up – are the go.
Cuban heels are often present, but in another amazing display, the men also tap barefoot which changes the sound but is just as affecting.
The skill here can’t be faulted and this troupe has toured the world and done stints with the ilk of Ricky Martin and Cirque du Soleil.
The concept works best as shorter acts. As an entire show, there’s the danger of wearing thin and having too much of a good thing, especially since individuality of performers is not a focus.
Malevo presents a tight pack that works like clockwork, never misses a beat and seems like they could keep propelling their well-conditioned bodies through several more encores.
If that was the case, the audience would be delighted. Opening night got a standing ovation from the usually hard-to-crack State Theatre audience.
It might be the oodles of sex appeal. But these guys are more than just pretty faces – their endurance is on par with top athletes and their world-class execution of highly complicated physical percussion is a sight to behold.
Andrew Kay presents
Director Matías Jaime
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 23 – 27 January 2024
Tickets: $120 – $71.20