Tango and Vermont: Perfect Partners

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 2016 press5
Miriam Larici & Leonardo Barrionuevo at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, 2016.
Photo: Armin Helisch

By Olivia J. Kiers

Vermont: land of world-class skiing and farm-fresh dairy. While its popular image is beloved, anyone familiar with this rural New England state is well aware that there is far more happening here than maple syrup. According to a 2014 report published by the Vermont Arts Council using census data (The Economic Footprint of the Arts in Vermont: An Update), more then $551 million of spending within the state was influenced by the arts sector in 2012. So, it should perhaps not be surprising that, in the resort hamlet of Stowe, VT, something as unexpected as an Argentinian Tango Festival is about to celebrate its fourth season.

“Vermont is a great place for anything,” co-founder of the festival Héctor Del Curto says simply. Indeed, much of what Del Curto says about the festival, he does in a matter-of-fact tone, which only serves to underscore how much his passion for tango and faith in Vermont are, for him, indisputable facts of life.

Tango is Del Curto’s world. Born in Argentina, he was introduced to tango’s signature instrument, the concertina-like bandoneon, at a young age. His grandfather, Héctor Cristobal, taught him to play; his great-grandfather was a bandoneon professional with his own orchestra. At the very young age of 17, Del Curto won “Best Bandoneon Play Under 25” in Argentina, and joined the famous tango musician Osvaldo Pugliese’s orchestra. “It never occurred to me that I was going to build a career,” Del Curto says. “I played bandoneon because that was something we did in the family, and I became a professional without realizing it.”
Yet Del Curto has pursued tango music as wholeheartedly as if it was his plan all along. In the United States, he has directed Forever Tango on Broadway, and now leads his very own Hector Del Curto Tango Orchestra, as well as a celebrated quintet featuring his wife, Jisoo Ok, on cello.

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Hector Del Curto Quintet. Photo: Hector Del Curto

Tango, however, cannot exist as music alone. “Tango was born out of milongas, dancing events where people gather in their community. It’s a social dance.” In order to play tango music the way it should be played—accompanied by dancers—Del Curto, Ok, and the Argentine Tango Society founded the Stowe Tango Music Festival in 2014. This year’s festival (August 17–20) centers on a highlight concert and post-concert milonga on stage at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center on Saturday night, though there is much more: dance lessons at all levels, music workshops, a free “Tango Talk,” mini-milongas, and the world’s only international bandoneon competition in Stowe’s elegant Palais de Glace venue.

Indeed, the festival is drawing an international crowd, on par with the ski slopes and resorts. “We are going to have people from Montreal this year, from Finland, Italy, Japan, and of course from Massachusetts and Vermont,” says Del Curto. “One of the goals for this festival was to make Stowe a capital of tango. At first, we said that we wanted to start small and grow at a healthy rate. Well, we are growing faster than expected, especially this fourth year. The word is spreading.”

According to Del Curto, more and more locals attend each year, and this pleases him as much as the festival’s international reputation. “Tango is community. If you are here to dance, you will be embraced by somebody else. This person—your partner—can be your husband, or it can be a stranger. So, you have to trust people. Trusting your community, to me, is one of the fundamental things about tango... Having local support is all part of this, and is wonderful.” While tango may never be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Vermont, this red-hot dance is obviously finding a welcome new home nestled in the Green Mountains.

Learn more about the Stowe Tango Music Festival at stowetangomusicfestival.com.


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