BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A hometown couple triumphed Monday in Argentina's annual tango competition, outdancing pairs from around the world. The Salon Tango finals, followed by Tuesday's Stage Tango competition, are the highlights of the two-week festival, now celebrating its tenth year.
Facundo de la Cruz Gomez Palavecino and Paola Sanz, a couple in real life as well as on the dance floor, won with a score of 8.81 from an exacting seven-member jury comprised of dancers and choreographers as a crowd of thousands cheered them on in Luna Park stadium.
"This is the dream of every dancer, to win the global competition and have more job offers. We achieved it in the face of very good dancers from all over the world," a very emotional Gomez Palavecino said after their victory was announced.
In the end, four Argentine couples won the most points. The top winners walked away with prizes including $8,600 dollars in cash and tickets to Paris, where they'll be expected to perform. More importantly, they garnered the respect of tango fans worldwide.
"This competition can change the lives of the winners," agreed the capital's culture minister, Hernan Lombardi. "They'll begin to travel the world, make themselves famous and become ambassadors of Buenos Aires."
This year's festival also honored Astor Piazzolla, the legendary composer and bandoneonista who revived the genre and infuriated purists by blending tango with rock music in the 1970s.
Piazzolla died 20 years ago but tango is still growing in popularity as a unique form of music, poetry and dance. This year's festival showed the genre is still evolving, too — from an under-25 orchestra that wowed the opening party to a group of five young Norwegians who interpreted the genre as if they were born in tango's birthplace on the shores of the Rio de la Plata, the wide river shared by Argentina and Uruguay where the genre first developed in the late 19th century.
Piazzolla's grandson, drummer Daniel Piazzolla, recreated with other musicians the Electronic Octet, a group his grandfather put together in the 1970s that shook the dust off a musical culture that had been stuck in the early 20th century. The elder Piazzolla's masterwork "Adios Nonino," combining his form of the accordion with jazz and dance, was restaged by choreographer Ana Maria Stekelman, who also served as a judge in the dance final.
In all, more than 2,000 artists converged on Buenos Aires for the two-week cultural festival, which celebrated its 10th year this Argentine winter. Art exhibits, book readings, oral histories, and master classes offered free to the public by eight of the previous winning couples were among the highlights.
"This is an event which constantly offers surprises, bringing together the most exciting examples of the genre and betting on crossing over to new generations," said Gustavo Mozzi, the event's artistic director.
A total of 491 couples from 32 countries competed, with a final 42 pairs reaching Monday night's final in the Salon Tango competition.
Each man wore the couple's number pinned to the back of an elegant suit as he twirled a partner in a dazzling dress and high heels around the stage in the Luna Park stadium. Competition rules require the couple to maintain physical contact while the music plays, while moving constantly in a counter-clockwise direction. Acrobatic swoops, swirls and passionate clutches are encouraged, but must be contained within the precise style of traditional tango: the competitors may not lift their legs above their knees.
Sixteen pairs from around the world challenged the Argentines in the Salon final, including three couples from Russia, two from Colombia and two from the U.S. The other finalists made it from Belgium, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Singapore, Uruguay and Venezuela.
After Monday night's Salon Tango final comes Tuesday's final in the Stage Tango competition, which invites dancers to incorporate other dance forms.