The Peacock Theatre might well have been named after the LSE 's benefactor, but it will soon play host to the most remarkable dance troupe whose puffed chests, thundering feet and strutting performances might aptly earn them the title of peacocks in their own right.
Judging from the preview this week at the Argentine Embassy, Malevo’s UK premiere should take the capital by storm. At home they are recipients of the Marca Pais, making them worldwide cultural ambassadors of Argentina. Already a sensation in Latin America the company achieved worldwide recognition after its successful participation in America’s Got Talent, where they reached the semifinals, though they have performed at international events for many years. Cirque Du Soleil summoned them to be part of the One Night for One Drop World Gala in Las Vegas and they performed at Fifa World Cup 2022. Universal Studios Japan established a permanent brand show for one year in its theme park, while Ricky Martin and Jamie King called on the company’s director Matias Jaime to choreograph the Puerto Rican singer’s show All in All at the Park Theater, Monte Carlo.
So what’s it all about? The dance most commonly associated with Argentina is the tango, but Malevo are specialists in the art of the all-male malambo. In contrast to the more sophisticated milongas of the cities, and in particular Buenos Aires, malambo is a folk dance found amongst the gauchos of the pampas that was popularised at the beginning of the 19th century, though its origins go back to the 16th century. By 1966 it had reached a sufficient status and level of respect as an art form for the city of Laborde to initiate the National Malambo Festival. Traditionally a solo piece, it is also performed in groups, a style that Jaime has extended into a theatrical spectacle with the inclusion of flamenco and urban percussion to give it a more avant-garde feel.
As with the tango there are technically demanding movements to be mastered, but here they are far more rustic and powerful. Complex footwork includes actions of zapateados and cepillados; stomping of the leather shoes to create thundering heel work and softer brushing or scrubbing with the soles and sides of the feet. In its competitive form, whoever stomps best wins.
C.J. Videla-Rivero says: "One gaucho taps, kicks, crosses his legs, pounds the earth with the side of his feet, make his spurs tinkle, and fills the air with a thousand and one different figures while his opponent, crouched, watches him". The dance is further enhanced by the inclusion of boleadoras; hunting weapons consisting of a stone wrapped up at the end of strips of leather that here are swung from the hands and also the mouth, swirled into the air and struck on the floor to make an sharp cracking sound. If all of this isn’t roisterous enough to disturb the grazing cattle, for many of the sequences the dancers carry a bombo legüero drum, so called because it sounds could be heard a league away. It’s similar in style to old European military drums with leather thongs and loops that can adjust the tension of the traditional cured animal skins, or modern synthetic equivalents, that form the drumhead. It's struck with a soft mallet and sticks that are also clicked against the wooden body of the drum and each other. These various elements combine to generate a stunning multi-sensory performance with shouts from the refined yet rowdy rancheros.
The members of Malevo take enormous pride in their work and are delighted to present their their unique art form to a wider audience. In their words, “Malevo presents a living and breathing modern-day interpretation of the traditional with respect for the past and excitement for the future”. This is not just a performance but an expression of their lifestyle, heritage and cultural identity; a tradition handed down from one generation to another around the campfires of La Pampa that is now being spread around the world.