“If I died and was born again, I would do it all again; above all being a tango dancer. I would do anything again, except start a relationship with Juan. ” We are introduced to the 80-year-old and still beautiful María Nieves. For over forty years she formed a tango couple with the now 83-year-old Juan Carlos Copes. Together they were the epitome of Argentine tango for many years. They toured Latin America, the US and even Japan with their tango shows. They met in the late 1940s in one of the many milongas (tango salons) in Buenos Aires in those years. María was still a teenager, who knew nothing about tango yet but danced for hours in the house while listening to the radio. Juan was determined to become the best dancer in the milonga and found the perfect partner in María.
So much for the romantic narrative of this story, which has spread over so many decades and is depicted in this documentary with fiction elements, directed by the Argentinian-German filmmaker German Kral. Because behind the special partnership was in reality grief, rejection and jealousy. We see María talk about the early days, often musing, full of humor and self-perspective. But now and then her true feelings seep through. She fell in love with a handsome young dancer, who was actually a shrewd businessman and – despite his self-proclaimed respect for her as a dancer and as a human being – never really loved her all these years. Less is spoken by Juan himself, who, like María, is beautifully preserved and still performs on stage every night as a dancer. But not with María; Their partnership came to an abrupt end in the late 1990s when Juan declared overnight after touring overnight that he would never dance with her again. The film shows why: his wife, twenty years younger, stopped working with María and demanded their business divorce from Juan.
Juan and María tell their story in front of the camera and to a group of young tango dancers and choreographers, who in turn depict all the beautiful, dramatic and tragic moments in the couple’s history while dancing. The creation of these dance scenes and the spectacular result of them gives the film a great love for the tango, not only in text but also in images. In between, we see the protagonists wandering the streets of the Argentinian capital, which is so different from half a century ago; which they sometimes hardly recognize. “Here in the 1950s we danced in hundreds at a time, under the stars!” María exclaims as she takes the film crew to what has now become a dilapidated gymnasium. These fragments not only made the film a personal story, but also the (sometimes a bit too) nostalgic history of an irrevocably changed city. The genre changes work when the interviews with Juan and María are interspersed with the dance sequences, but the director wanted to show too much of the realization. That is not always necessary, he would rather have edited more of the rare but fantastic archive material into the film.
The story that is often painful for María also has a somewhat bitter aftertaste for the viewer. She visibly enjoys the admiration she gets from the young dancers, but there is something gnawing about. “Being financially independent and being able to make my own plan has been good for me, but being alone at 80 is not nice for anyone,” she says softly as she looks back on her life. She too would have liked to have a family, children to take care of her. Most of all, she has retained the grace of a dancer and still has the love of tango in her life.