A huge kitsch heart hangs over the bar and across the empty air space stands a high stage, a compilation of wood and metal that gives the impression of having been built from odds and ends and scraps. Below these two focal points, light and art play together.Bare, colored light bulbs seem to float in the air above the dance floor as the grey wires they are fixed to almost disappear against the concrete walls. Candles glow in the center of each table. Globes from spotlights illuminate kitsch murals and sculptures of jumbled wires. No wonder Jennifer Lopez filmed a music video here last week.
But the magic of La Cathedral is how it reinvents what is Argentine. In 1998, Mario Bulcio, La Cathedral’s owner, restored a graffiti-covered warehouse in the neighborhood of Almagro, filled it with edgy modern art, and reopened it as a vegetarian restaurant and dance club where milongas (open tango dances) and tango lessons happen every night of the week. Part of the underground scene, no sign from the outside marks its presence at 4006 Sarmiento, but Argentines and a few tourists find it every night of the week and pack it on Fridays and Tuesdays.
Bulcio calls what goes on at his club “the search for the identity of the country between the new and the traditional.” In the quest, La Cathedral has taken Argentine culture underground and resurrected it avant-garde. Take the vegetarian food for example. Bulcio proves, as he says, that you do not have to eat steak at a tango show. But even without the meat, the menu stays authentically Argentine- milanesas, homemade pizzas, and empanadas.
The milanesas are soy and the empanadas are filled with squash and tofu. The picadas, appropriately named Cura and Obispo, replace ham and salami with pickled berenjenas, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. El Volador, a meal-sized empanada stuffed with cheese and veggies, has all the heartiness of classic Argentine cuisine. But the main even here is the dancing, and despite the fact that a huge picture of tango icon Carlos Gardel sits on the stage, he would find his favorite dance’s boundaries considerably redefined at La Cathedral.
“It’s moving, changing, mobile, dynamic. We come and go with tango as we want.” That is how Maria Fernanda de Boussais, describes the tango show she performs in with the group Micifuz on Friday nights. But the creators of La Cathedral’s cutting-edge tango count among Argentina’s most classic modern-day tangueros. The director of Micifuz is none other than Carlos Borquez, star of the Broadway hit “Tango Argentina” and member of La Compañia del Tango, a household name among tango aficionados.
With an assembly of four female dancers, he has invented a creative cabaret of a tango show ‒“La milonga del amor.” Sparkling cocktail dresses replace long, slitted tango formals. Borquez himself dances in a giant afro wig. Electronic tango, modern ballet, and an Asian-inspired number all figure into the repertoire. The most daring number throws aside gender roles when two female dancers interpret a passionate tango. But everyone can play with tango at La Cathedral. From bohemian types with dreads who may have spent the afternoon selling artisan wares in Plaza Dorrego, to blonde tourists with a previous devotion to tango, to college kids trying to pickup girls, to middle-aged Argentines who finally figured out that tango is cool, everyone dances.
Their age, mostly between 20 and 40, represents a kind of rebirth of the dance. After its 1930’s heyday, the generation born in the 50s looked at it as something that their parents did. However, as the crowds at La Cathedral attest, tango has regained ground among the younger set. While gaining notoriety, La cathedral is still a little outside of the main tourist circuit. Here Argentines come to be Argentine and new generations reinvent classic traditions in the dynamism of a culture alive and vibrant.
If La Cathedral could be called a point of reference for the direction a new generation is taking their culture, very cool would be the destination.
All pics are from La Catedral website
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