Jackie McMillan
18th Jan 2024

Sydney Opera House Concert Hall felt ripe and ready for the Argentine men of Malevo last night. When the all-male troupe took to the stage, they were hooting and hollering before anything much had happened at all. Mind you, the dancers did arrive bare chested and oiled up with oddly wet hair, all before they’d sweated or danced a single step. Think of it as an upper-middle class version of Manpower or Wild Boys Afloat, with culture as the vehicle that makes ogling oiled up pectorals and abdominals perfectly fine. 

In terms of communicating culture, this troupe - directed, choreographed and danced by Matías Jaime - adapt a traditional Argentine folk dance called the malambo into something seemingly sexier, well if the women hollering are anything to go by... These 'Gauchos’ drop the traditional white shirts, squeeze themselves into skin-tight black jeans and carry narrow bombos (drums). From time-to-time they put on facsimiles of Argentinian cowboy garb made of laced-up, wet-look PVC or tight blue jean chaps with crocheted tasseled tablecloth bottoms. For the opening number, the fourteen men drum in concert with Jaime’s choreography seeing them alternate between beating their own bombo and the drums of the men standing next to them. This is about as homoerotic as this hyper-masculine show gets, but you have plenty of time to use your imagination, as each of the three broad sections of this 80-minute show goes on longer than it should. 

The other two sections cover bolas and zapateado where different configurations of dancers stomp their Cuban heels in ever-faster rhythms. Jaime has taken a bit of artistic licence here. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s Argentina’s answer to Riverdance; and sometimes it summons the dancing Andalusian stallions at Sydney’s defunct El Coballo Blanco. The bolas were the highlight with the troupe spinning ‘weapons’ adapted from the traditional Gaucho hunting devices of leather bags of small rocks hanging from the end of braided leather cords. I’m not quite sure where the glow-in-the-dark whips featured in traditional Argentinian culture, but as a fan of Maòri poi and the odd bit of Florentine flogging, I was happy enough letting my eyes relax into the shimmering circles created by their fast-moving toys. These light patterns were the best of the otherwise basic lighting design that relied upon cheap stadium tricks like blinders. 

The dancers were joined on stage by four musicians on percussion, violin, guitar and bandoneon (an Argentinian button accordion). The quartet had a few dedicated musical interludes, where the recognisable medleys of traditional Argentinian songs spoke to audience members attending to celebrate their own cultural connections. For an outsider not that used to Argentinian tunes, I really missed the bass, though suspect it’s deliberate to leave a sonic hole for the dancers’ galloping feet. Following in the footsteps of the judges of America’s Got Talent much of the opening night audience rose to give Malevo a standing ovation. I suspect they were feeding off the cast’s energy and obvious delight at performing in Sydney’s grandest music hall, snapping off cast and audience photos to share with the folks back home. I found Malevo a fairly shallow piece of entertainment.

Malevo runs until 21 January at SOH. Tickets range from $79 - $120 with an $8.95 booking fee per transaction.

Photos by Jordan_Munns