BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Couples from around the world are competing in the finals Argentina's annual tango competition, the highlight of a two-week festival which this year honored Astor Piazzolla, the legendary composer and bandoneonista who revived the genre and infuriated purists by blending tango with rock music in the 1970s.
Piazzolla died 20 years ago but tango is still growing in popularity as a unique form of music, poetry and dance. This year's festival showed the genre is still evolving, too — from an under-25 orchestra that wowed the opening party to a group of five young Norwegians who interpreted the genre as if they were born in tango's birthplace on the shores of the Rio de la Plata, the wide river shared by Argentina and Uruguay where the genre first developed in the late 19th century.
Piazzolla's grandson, drummer Daniel Piazzolla, recreated with other musicians the Electronic Octet, a group his grandfather put together in the 1970s that shook the dust off a musical culture that had been stuck in the early 20th century. The elder Piazzolla's masterwork "Adios Nonino," combining his form of the accordion with jazz and dance, was restaged by choreographer Ana Maria Stekelman, who also served as a judge in the dance final.
In all, more than 2,000 artists converged on Buenos Aires for the two week cultural festival, which celebrated its 10th year this Argentine winter. Art exhibits, book readings, oral histories, and master classes offered free to the public by eight of the previous winning couples were among the highlights.
"This is an event which constantly offers surprises, bringing together the most exciting examples of the genre and betting on crossing over to new generations," said Gustavo Mozzi, the event's artistic director.
A total of 491 couples from 32 countries competed, with a final 42 pairs reaching Monday night's final in the Salon Tango competition.
Each man wore the couple's number pinned to the back of an elegant suit as he twirled a partner in a dazzling dress and high heels around the stage in the Luna Park stadium. Competition rules require the couple to maintain physical contact while the music plays, while moving constantly in a counter-clockwise direction. Acrobatic swoops, swirls and passionate clutches are encouraged, but must be contained within the precise style of traditional tango: the competitors may not lift their legs above their knees.
Sixteen pairs from around the world challenged the Argentines in the Salon final, including three couples from Russia, two from Colombia and two from the U.S. The other finalists made it from Belgium, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Singapore, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The winners walk away with prizes including $8,600 dollars in cash, but more importantly, fame and the respect of tango fans worldwide.
After Monday night's Salon Tango final comes Tuesday's final in the Stage Tango competition, which invites dancers to incorporate other dance forms.