With tango partnerships, the man’s name always comes first, not just because of the art-form’s unreconstructed macho heritage but because the man leads and takes the responsibility. His first responsibility, however, is to bring out the lyricism of the woman. Of the two famous brothers, Miguel Ángel Zotto is the more vivid but Osvaldo is the more poetic. When I first saw him dance, on one of his teaching visits to London, I thought seriously of tearing up every poem I had ever written and making arrangements to be born again in Buenos Aires. In the first three examples of his mastery that I have chosen here, he dances with his regular partner Lorena Ermocida. Almost every video of serious Argentinian tango that you will ever see was shot by an amateur and the sound is usually as raucous as the visuals are patchy, but if, at a first viewing, you keep your eyes on Osvaldo’s feet you will see the essence of the matter. The remarkable length of his sideways stride is always in evidence, and the default position of his advancing foot is invariably with the toe extended, giving a man of average height the stride of an unusually suave giant.
An expert witness could go on for hours about the intricacies of Osvaldo Zotto’s technique, yet his smoothly linked steps are never more complicated than necessary, even when he uncorks a giro that has chapter after chapter, like a little book. But his chief instrument of expression is his partner. Under his guidance, she is given oceans of time to flourish the free foot and decorate as she pleases. I have chosen the first example with some care, so that the beginning viewer will realise that the woman should know how to get her effects with her feet near the floor before she takes off into the adagio bravura whose crowd-pleasing over-use makes so many tango stage shows tediously repetitive. Lorena Ermocida (that’s her with him in the photograph) is an artist, not a stunt woman.
Perhaps the most expressive partner Osvaldo Zotto ever danced with, however – she was probably the most expressive partner any leading man of Osvaldo’s generation ever danced with – was the great Milena Plebs. My last chosen example shows Osvaldo and Milena demonstrating exactly what the tango ought to be. Notice, in particular, how Milena scarcely even decorates. She gets her effects with a simple-seeming sweep of the free foot, just as Osvaldo gets most of his from merely changing direction. But of course there is nothing simple, or mere, about it. This is a language in which fluency costs a lifetime.
See Osvaldo Zotto and Lorena Ermocida dance to “Para Dos”
See Osvaldo Zotto and Lorena Ermocida dance to “Naranjo en Flor”
See Osvaldo Zotto and Lorena Ermocida dance to “Nochero Soy”
See Osvaldo Zotto and Milena Plebs dance in “Tango con las Estrellas”