The story of one man’s quest, simply and movingly told.
Each January, the village of Laborde, in southeastern Argentina, holds a national folkloric dance competition for the best performance of the malambo. Rigorous, energetic, and demanding, the malambo can be described simply as “a battle between men who tap in turn to music.” The competition requires that the dancer perform for five minutes—which feels like an eternity and leaves the performer drained and exhausted. With its intricate moves, athleticism, and musicality, the dance requires years of arduous training and intense concentration, but the effort is worth the outcome: national prestige. Winning the contest can be life-changing; the winner is acclaimed throughout the country, and he becomes a superstar, role model, and hero. With so much at stake, the competition is fierce. Journalist Guerriero traveled to Laborde to witness the event and became entranced by one competitor: the modest, handsome Rodolfo González Alcántara, a 28-year-old dance teacher from the town of La Pampa. When he performed, writes the author, “he made the night crackle.” Born into poverty, eking out a living teaching, Rodolfo nevertheless ardently pursued his dream of becoming a master of malambo, taking lessons, practicing for hours each day, and assessing and evaluating every step. With gentle sensitivity, Guerriero portrays his family, his encouraging teacher, his loyal girlfriend (also a dancer), and his grateful pupils. Rodolfo has no illusions about his talent and has to convince himself repeatedly that he can be a champion. His story “was that of a man who had awakened the most dangerous of emotions: hope.” Guerriero transforms Rodolfo’s quest into a fable, reminiscent of the work of her countrymen Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. She portrays Rodolfo with such obvious affection that readers cannot help cheer him on, but it would spoil the tension that the author masterfully creates to reveal the outcome of the competition.
A timeless tale rendered in spare, evocative prose.