Gilles Brinas was an acclaimed dancer and choreographer in Europe in the early ’70s when he was captivated by a Malambo dance performance in Paris.
The stylized Malambo, a 400-year-old Argentine dance with roots in gaucho dueling, was scarcely known outside its native land.
“I was very impressed with this dance and the powerful rhythmic footwork, but I continued my career as a ballet dancer,” Brinas said.
“Then, one morning I awoke, and I felt a calling,” he said. “The force of Malambo was within me. I took off from France to Argentina to pursue this calling.”
Today, Brinas is the founder, director and choreographer of a 14-member, all-male Argentine dance troupe, Che Malambo.
The group made its debut in 2006 in Buenos Aires. A year later, dancers put on their first international performance in Paris and, since that time, they have performed more than 150 times in Europe, Asia and the United States, including at several prestigious festivals.
Sponsored by the New Orleans Ballet Association, Che Malambo will make its local debut at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. It is the closing production of NOBA’s 2015-16 season.
With roots in the culture of 17th-century South American gauchos, or cowboys, the Malambo was born as a contest of strength and agility. Its signature move is the intense footwork, “inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses,” according to the troupe’s publicity material.
Although the origin of the word “Malambo” is unknown, its pronunciation “is incredibly rhythmic,” Brinas said. “When repeated several times, ‘malambomalambomalambo,’ the sound of galloping horses and cavalcades can be evoked. That galloping rhythm accompanied the day-to-day lives of the gauchos on horseback and is the same rhythm that forms the continual thread to the Che Malambo spectacle.”
Originating with the Guarani Indians, the prefix, “Che,” in this instance, can be interpreted to mean “my,” according to Brinas.
“Malambo has roots in Africa and Europe as a result of both the voluntary and involuntary migration of people,” Brinas said. “Although Malambo continues to evolve, Pampa Argentina is its birthplace and is primarily responsible for the dance’s style and its particular color.”
At the core of the Malambo style, the signature footwork, called zapeteo, incorporates elements of American tap dancing and Spanish flamenco.
Dancers are accompanied by the drumming of traditional Argentine bombos. Some of the performers whirl boleadoras, a throwing weapon made up of intertwined cords and weighted with stones.
For centuries, the traditions and styles of Malambo were passed down from one generation of guachos to the next but, according to Brinas, more recently, the tradition is being taught at official schools and by independent teachers.
However, he added that “it is still rather informal.”
“Traditionally, Malambo dance brings forth a very serious and intimate experience with the audience,” Brinas said. “I feel that I have brought a change of tempo, a smile, a joy of dance expressed in group choreography for a contemporary ensemble, with velocity and virtuosity as the goal.
“Malambo is a part of the dancers culture,” Brinas said. “It’s their life, and having the opportunity to share this with the rest of the world and to experience the universal enthusiasm brings them the greatest joy. Knowing how important dance and music is to New Orleans life, we will be thrilled to see the audience’s reaction.”
The Ballet Resource and Volunteer Organization will be hosting Che Malambo at its annual fundraising gala, “Una Noche en Argentina,” at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The evening will celebrate Argentina with traditional cuisine, Argentine wines, a silent auction and live Latin music from guitarists Julio & Cesar. Tickets are available from the New Orleans Ballet Association.