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By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Originally Published on

Robert Royston and Mariela Franganillo
Photo courtesy of Grant Le Duc

For an Argentine Tango enthusiast, as I am, and a West Coast Swing enthusiast, as is Robert Abrams, Editor of, watching SWANGO, the fusion..., with the sheer energy and dynamism that explodes at each burst of percussive, dance music, composed by the likes of Pablo Ziegler, Astor Piazzolla, and the Gotan Project, was a high point of our summer dance experience. Swing 46, between 8th and 9th Avenues, a comfortable restaurant in the midst of Restaurant Row, Times Square, has, for the third week in a row, set this block ablaze with the fiery passion of Argentine Tango and West Coast Swing, with an amazing cast of youthful, but seasoned performers, all of whom are dance instructors and stars in the international scene of Swing and Tango.

The cast: Mariela Franganillo, Mariana Parma (also a Creator and Producer of SWANGO, the fusion...), Robert Royston, Cesar Coelho, Ronen Khayat, Cody Melin, Nicola Royston, and Laureen Baldovi, move with perfect harmony and tension, whether leaping, swinging chairs (in a scene reminiscent of the fight scene in West Side Story), dancing, or psychologically seducing one another, in sexually and emotionally charged moments, in this all-too-brief performance, which has enormous potential to move to a larger theater in the near future. Mariela Franganillo and Robert Royston are the subjects of this inside perspective.

July 25, 2002, Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, with Mariela Franganillo, Robert Royston, and Carlos Quiroga (ReporTango and subject of a previous inside perspective, who joined our conversation). Following are notes and excerpts of this four-way conversation. We will provide periodic additions and updates to this emerging sensation.

REZ - Tell me how SWANGO, the fusion... happened.

RR and MF - We met in 1999. Mariela was in Forever Tango and Robert was in Swing. West Coast Swing was Robert's specialty and Tango was Mariela's specialty. We were teaching at Dance Manhattan, NYC. Both dances use lead-follow concepts, and both are sexy and dynamic. We said to each other, 'We should do something'.

CQ (To Robert) - Did you have any experience with Tango?

RR - I had seen parts of Forever Tango on video.

REZ -Both dances, from different heritages, have similarities and differences. Let's talk about the formation of SWANGO, the fusion....

MF and RR - West Coast Swing started in Southern California in Blues Clubs in 1947-48. Argentine Tango started in brothels in Buenos Aires. In 2000, we thought of a show, SWANGO, the fusion..., which would fuse the two cultures, American and Argentinean. We had three lunches, with Nicola (Robert's wife, who has two degrees in Drama and whose father is an Executive Producer at the Helen Hayes Theater Company in Nyack).

REZ - So, Producers in high places are targeting your show for attention, since Nicola's father has arranged for them to attend performances, during the next few weeks.

CQ - Do you have limitations (with this theater)?

MF and RR - There's no backstage, no curtain, no blackout, and no wings.

REZ - I noticed that you could have danced into two tables tonight.

RR and MF - There's not much space. We had to completely change the choreography. Our show now lasts forty minutes. We would like to extend it to ninety minutes.

REZ - Tell me more about the history.

MF - Originally, Mariana and I were going to produce Flame, a fusion of Flamenco and Tango, at the French Alliance, in October. We were rehearsing, and then September 11 happened, and the show was cancelled. We were going to bring dancers from Buenos Aires and Spain to New York. Then we heard that there would be space for eight weeks this summer at Swing 46. We received help from Teddy Kern, owner of Dance Manhattan, and a choreographer of musicals and opera.

REZ - The fight scene with the chairs reminded me of the Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, the scenes of Tybalt's and Mercutio's deaths, with fencing and fierce passion.

RR and MF - Right, this is loosely based on West Side Story, which is based on Romeo and Juliet. Swing boy meets Tango girl. The girl has to decide if she leaves the Latin world she knows, and each side tries to seduce its own to stay with his/her own culture. But, they follow their hearts.

CQ - Tangueros are very conservative. They don't want change.

MF and RR - Yes, and the American culture is very different. They have the Cha-Cha and Hustle influence on West Coast Swing.

CQ - How did you picture the choreography?

RR - It poured out of us. Mariela was a fireball.

CQ - So — After eight weeks here, you would love to be on Broadway?

RR - Yes.

REZ -How did you choose the cast?

RR - We had auditions and then handpicked the others. Laureen Baldovi has been my dance partner for twelve years, and Nicola, my wife, has performed with me for one year.

REZ - And you compete?

RR - I am a four-time World, Country Western Champion, and I emcee the United States Swing Dance Championships. Laureen and I are members of the Swing Dance Hall of Fame, like Frankie Manning. I was inducted in 1999, when I stopped competing and started coaching.

REZ - And Mariela?

MF - I started dancing Tango at eighteen, and performed at the age of twenty at Casa Blanca. My coach was Gustavo Naveira. I also taught Tango at Stanford University and performed at the Smithsonian Institution. I loved the cultural mix of this country. Then, I met Luis Bravo in 1996 and joined the cast of Forever Tango, which traveled around the world. I met my husband, Hector del Curto, a bandoneonist in the show, while traveling with Forever Tango.

CQ - Do you think SWANGO, the fusion... would be a success in New York if we did not have the multi-cultures here?

RR - Where else would West Coast Swing and Argentine Tango be a success, but here in New York, where the 'fusion' takes place?

REZ - Exactly. Thank you so much.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at