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Review: Malevo at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne

Review by Emily White

The “South American Sensation" have burst onto the State Theatre stage for their explosive Australian debut. 

Directed and choreographed by Matías Jaime, the show is a series of dance and music pieces that blend the traditional with the modern in a way that is sleek and precise. The cast are impeccable in their timing and uniformity - the physical engagement never lapses for a moment as they pull off rhythmic tricks that will make you say wow!

Malevo uses traditional Argentinian folk dance — the Malambo, originally performed by the gauchos of the pampas regions (think South American cowboys in the grasslands of Argentina and Uruguay). It is a highly rhythmic and percussive style, combining drums, stomping of feet, and boleadoras — a leather and stone hunting tool used by the gauchos. 

The gaucho is a figure of legendary status in Argentinian history and folklore, respected for being highly skilled with horse and cattle, with a reputation for bravery and unruliness. This flavour of masculinity runs throughout the show, as Malevo celebrates the masculine body with a style of movement that is strong, loud, and vibrant. 

The costume design reflects these themes, with simple designs centring denim and leather. The 

occasional inclusion of a more traditional-folk costume piece added some interest, but ultimately seeing the same costumes in each act detracted from the overall production value. 

By comparison, the lighting design was a stand-out element which elevated the show to the level of spectacle. The use of shadows was particularly impressive, creating a high-contrast sharpness that added to the drama and tension of every act.

This tension is curated expertly throughout the show. The high level of drama in the characterisation of the dance is so much fun and a joy to watch. The choreography does not shy away from a dramatic pause that leaves an Australian audience unsure when to clap — after all, silence is just as important as sound when it comes to percussion. It’s a subtle sense of humour that you also see in the occasional moment of connection between dancers, or a direct look to the audience to share a cheeky smile. 

The band also deserves special mention as a formidable force that carries the show with a driving energy and vitality. The four musicians are highly skilled, supporting the dancers or coming to the forefront as needed. Again, it is the blend of traditional folk music with a contemporary energy that gives Malevo its unique style that will have you grooving along in your seat. 

The energy of the show, propelled by the live music with a focus on percussion, is addictive and will leave you wishing the show could keep going for many hours more. While I did want more of the big group numbers with the whole cast on their drums, since we only really get that in the opening number, the different routines with boleadoras brought spectacle and a pop of colour to the show. Plus, once the whips come out, you know you’re in for a cracking good time. 

The show concluded with Malevo’s take on a classic Aussie banger, which was a nice touch for the company’s debut down under. This was bookended by not one but two standing ovations, well deserved for the level of energy they were serving. 

Malevo is a whole lot of fun — they will stomp their way into your heart in the best way possible.

Image Credit: Jordan Munns


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