Dancing comes naturally to Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace. The pair’s passionate professional partnership on Strictly Come Dancing endeared them to the nation and, since leaving the ballroom behind, a foray into musical theatre has seen their fancy footwork thrill audiences in venues nationwide. Now, hot on the heels of the success of Midnight Tango and Dance ‘Til Dawn, comes the dynamic duo’s third production: The Last Tango.
As the name suggests, The Last Tango is Vincent and Flavia’s grand finale. The show opens this month ahead of a 32-week farewell tour to give fans all over the country one last chance to see them perform live on-stage in a full-length piece. The World Argentine Tango Champions have been dancing together for twenty years and now it is time for them to pause, reflect upon their successes and consider new projects – but not before saying goodbye to theatre in style!
Described as their “best show yet” by the smooth-talking Simone, The Last Tango has been devised as a celebration of Vincent and Flavia’s most intimate, emotive and beautiful dance moves. Anticipation is high and expectations are even higher so I was chuffed to be invited to watch the cast in rehearsal.
Arriving at a charming dance studio in Fulham, I am ushered through into a large practice room. Before the dancers are let loose to do what they do best, director and choreographer Karen Bruce reveals some of the dramatic motivation behind the narrative. She explains: “Really, The Last Tango is a story about relationships, about life. We follow the journey a couple makes as they meet and experience the highs and lows that they have throughout their time together. Our stars first meet in the late 1930s, in England. The show continues to follow them into the 70s and 80s, but without any of the dodgy fashions. They are always beautiful!”
Indeed, the Italian twosome are effortlessly easy on the eye as well as being completely captivating when in motion. As the opening scene from The Last Tango springs into action, the dancing duo are immersed in a seaside setting, which sees them parading around deckchairs, picnicking with friends and watching a boisterous game of cricket. Despite the bare floorboards of the rehearsal space and the absence of any impressive scenery or costumes, we are quite obviously at the beach. With sunny smiles and shipshape technique, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are utterly convincing as the fun-loving, holidaying lead couple.
Without giving too much away, the numbers included in The Last Tango make the most of the Strictly superstars’ versatility. The show is packed full of energetic, arresting dance sequences featuring jazz, swing, ballroom, Latin and, of course, Vincent and Flavia’s thrilling signature Argentine Tango. In the scenes I am granted a sneak preview of, there are props aplenty and personality oozes from every performer.
As fabulous as Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace themselves are, they are joined by a talented company who have thrown themselves body and soul into the creation of the principals’ farewell theatrical extravaganza. My visit to the studio has fallen during the cast’s third week of rehearsals and the routines are really coming together.
Teddy Kempner, Matthew Gent, Callum Clack, Diana Girbau, Rebecca Herszenhorn, Aaron James, Rebecca Lisewski, Jemima Loddy, Ian Oswald and Grant Thresh are the multi-talented artists sharing the spotlight with Vincent and Flavia. The enthusiasm of the cast is infectious and, after being dazzled by the dancing professionals, I am delighted when Vincent announces that next on the agenda is a mini Tango masterclass for members of the press.
To reassure the more reluctant journalists, Vincent declares: “If you can walk, you can Tango”. As you’d expect, there is no stopping me. I’m on my feet as soon as the possibility of getting to dance is hinted at!
As the experts demonstrate the short combination of steps that form the Tango eight-count basic, Vincent explains that the slow, controlled and intense style of the Tango lends itself well to even the most rhythmically challenged beginner because the dancers are free to set their own tempo. The follower (the woman) must allow herself to be guided by the leader (the man) “as two bodies become one” and move in response to each other.
We practise the “slow, slow, quick, quick, slow” sequence (two slow walks and a Tango close) on our own a few times. However, as everyone knows, it takes two to Tango. So, next, Vincent instructs us to pair up with the pros. Falling into step with cast member Grant Thresh, I attempt to adopt the upright posture and pliable torso required for the Tango walk (the caminata). Apologising profusely – and needlessly – for his post-rehearsal sweatiness, Grant leads me through a sequence of steps and pivots that make a figure-of-eight pattern on the floor (the ocho) and, together, we mark through the short segment of dance.
The Tango originated in Buenos Aires in the 1890s as an improvisational social dance based on walking. A form of silent bodily conversation between partners and with the music, it embodies passion and emotional connection. After watching Flavia and Vincent’s display of tantalising Tango I am eager to learn as much as possible and chat to my milonguero (social Tango partner) Grant about his training – while trying to persuade him to throw some more choreography my way! Performers College graduate Grant last appeared on stages nationwide as part of the ensemble for musical Wicked and he is feeling “very privileged” to be part of Vincent and Flavia’s ultimate production.
I share Grant’s feeling of fortune when Vincent bounds over. He is full of effusive enthusiasm and praise for our performance and keen to whirl me around the dance floor himself. Obviously, my arms are carefully placed in appropriate abrazo (dance hold) so pinching myself is not an option – but I really am dancing with Vincent Simone! He and Flavia describe how the movements I execute can be embellished with “leg play” (all of those flirtatious flicks, and exhilarating kicks, hooks and sweeps that Flavia’s legs fly through when the dream team dance), enthralling everyone in the room with another quick demonstration.
Vincent promises that The Last Tango will include a “super Tango” – full of so much impossibly intricate content that Flavia brightly pronounces it “almost unchoreographable!” – and reminds fans that “we are putting the suitcase away, not hanging up the shoes”. The couple guarantee that the show is brimming with enduring heart and emotion, resulting in such engaging storytelling that audiences will be crying, laughing and totally swept away by breathtaking dance.
I can’t wait to see the show when it comes to Milton Keynes Theatre in November. And, while I’m more than content to sit back and leave the hard work to the professionals, I’d never refuse future dance classes with Vincent and Flavia!
The Last Tango is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday 23 to Saturday 28 November 2015.
An abridged version of this piece on Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace features in the Milton Keynes Citizen:
I also wrote previews for:
Update 24 November 2015: Read my review of The Last Tango.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.