Toronto-raised Sergio Trujillo says Arrabal has let him embrace his culture.
ARRABAL directed by Sergio Trujillo, choreographed by Trujillo and Julio Zurita, music by Gustavo Santaolalla, book by John Weidman. Presented by Mirvish and BASE Entertainment at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge). Opens tonight (Thursday, February 13) and runs to April 20, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $44-$84. 416-872-1212. See listing.
Sergio Trujillo is a mensch.
Even though he's been involved with some of Broadway's biggest hits - including choreographing the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys, Memphis and Next To Normal - when he shakes my hand he immediately recalls meeting me almost 15 years ago when I interviewed him for the Broadway-bound production of Fosse.
Now, that's class.
"It was one of my final shows as a dancer," he says, during a brief tech rehearsal break for Arrabal. Lithe and lean, he looks almost the same as he did back then, and although the world premiere of his new show is a few days away, he's looking pretty relaxed, too.
Arrabal uses the music of Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain) and his band, Orquesta Bajofonderos, and tango-inflected choreography to tell the story of a young girl's search for the truth about her grandfather, who was disappeared during Argentina's "dirty war" in the late 1970s and early 80s.
"This is part of my heritage, part of my genetic makeup, my cultural mosaic," says Trujillo, who was born in Colombia and raised in Toronto before performing in shows like Jerome Robbins's Broadway and Guys And Dolls.
"It's at the core of who I am."
Coincidentally, he recalls hearing one of Santaolalla's Bajofondo CDs at Tower Records back in 2001 and thinking that one day he'd want to work with it. So when Santaolalla himself approached him to work on a project, he immediately said yes. They did research and workshops in Buenos Aires, hiring Argentine dancers and musicians. They brought on writer John Weidman (Contact, Assassins) to map out a narrative.
Trujillo describes Arrabal's sound as a traditional musical form blended and fused to become a contemporary idiom. He also says it just makes you want to get up and dance.
Speaking of getting up and dancing, ticket-holders to Arrabal will be able to take tango lessons before each performance, on a first-come, first-served basis.
"In Buenos Aires we did workshops in a place called the Cathedral, and we're making the Panasonic into something similar," he says, pointing out the high ceilings of the theatre. "The audience is a part of the story and will be asked to dance a couple of times during the show. There'll be wine and beer served, just like in a real milonga."
He says people outside Argentina have a misconception about tango.
"They think it's this fancy dance, but when it's done properly it's one of the most intimate dance forms around. It's about connection on a human level," he says. "The partners lock heads, close their eyes and never lift their heads as they move around the room in unison in this counterclockwise circle.
"The most famous tango songs deal with pain and love and heartache," he continues. "We may think these things are overly dramatic, but we shouldn't deny emotions."
After its premiere here, Trujillo hopes the show travels around the world, spreading its story of survival and perseverance.
Working on the universal story really hits home for him.
"In Canada, I wanted to assimilate so bad that I sort of moved away from my own culture," he says. "Now I'm in a place to embrace my heritage and draw from it."