CULTURE: FILM: “Our Last Tango”: The True Story of the Argentine Dancers who Made Tango Famous

Born during the tango’s golden age, when the dance was the “diversion of the poor people”, they gave up everything to devote their lives to it. Photo (c) Pasimedia Ltd 2017Born during the tango’s golden age, when the dance was the “diversion of the poor people”, they gave up everything to devote their lives to it. Photo (c) Pasimedia Ltd 2017

Argentine Film Festival London / Celluloid Circus / Pasimedia Present – “Our Last Tango” is above all a love story. A story of love between the two most famous dancers in tango’s history. And the story of their tremendous love of tango. María Nieves Rego (81) and Juan Carlos Copes (84) met when they were 14 and 17, and they danced together for nearly fifty years. In all those years they loved and hated each other and went through several painful separations but always got back together. No other man danced like Juan and no other woman danced like María! Eventually, he left her for good for a woman 20 years younger with whom he fathered two children.

Now, at the end of their lives, Juan and María are willing to open up about their love, their hatred, and their passion. In “Our Last Tango” Juan and María tell their story to a group of young tango dancers and choreographers from Buenos Aires, who transform the most beautiful, moving and dramatic moments of Juan and Maria’s lives into incredible tango-choreographies.

These beautifully-shot choreographies compliment the soul-searching interviews and documentary moments of the film to make this an unforgettable journey into the heart of the tango.

Photo (c) The Hollywood Reporter 2015

. No one was more obsessive and determined than Juan, who created the first tango-stage-show, which carried the tango out into the world. Photo (c) The Hollywood Reporter 2015

While telling Juan and Maria’s story, “Our Last Tango” also traces the history of the tango and the profound influence the couple had on the dance in the past 50 years. Juan and María were the first to take the tango out of the clubs of Buenos Aires and bring the dance on to the world’s theatre stages.

Born during the tango’s golden age, when the dance was the “diversion of the poor people”, they gave up everything to devote their lives to it. But, then came rock ’n’ roll and, with it, the decline of this passionate dance from Argentina.

But, María and Juan and their companions never gave up. No one was more obsessive and determined than Juan, who created the first tango-stage-show, which carried the tango out into the world.

Photo (c) Amazon 2017

Tango was absolutely unknown in the US. They didn’t have money and struggled to make ends meet. Until one day Juan had the crazy idea to dance on a table. Photo (c) Amazon 2017

His determination paid off: soon they were touring Latin America and later even performed in New York. Those were not only wonderful times, but also extremely difficult ones. Tango was absolutely unknown in the US. They didn’t have money and struggled to make ends meet. Until one day Juan had the crazy idea to dance on a table. A show that from then on became their trademark and with which they went on stage all over the world. María felt homesick and wanted to return to Argentina. All that really mattered to her at this point was Juan. But, all he cared about was the tango.

At Maria’s insistence, Juan married her in Las Vegas. They returned to Buenos Aires, but then Juan left on a world tour, without María. She was completely devastated, until she fell in love with a man she met at a milonga. Juan missed his tangopartner and returned to Buenos Aires after two years to look for María – who was now with another man.

They tried to dance and live together once more, but Juan’s excessive lifestyle wore María down. Juan drank and continued to see other women. This self-destructive behaviour nearly cost him his life. But then he met his present-day wife and soon they were expecting their first child. This was a huge shock for María.

Photo (c) NDK 2017

When the internationally acclaimed “Tango Argentino” broke everyone’s expectations to become one of the most successful Broadway shows ever to be staged, Juan and María were the lead dancers of the show. Photo (c) NDK 2017

A time of open hatred began. Even if Juan and María didn’t talk to each other anymore, they continued to dance together for almost twenty years like real gods.

When the internationally acclaimed “Tango Argentino” broke everyone’s expectations to become one of the most successful Broadway shows ever to be staged, Juan and María were the lead dancers of the show.

But, after a tour in Japan, Juan stopped inviting María to be his dance partner. María, now over 60 years old, nearly went to pieces. She got severely depressed, lost all her pride and self-confidence. A few years were to pass before she gathered the courage to dance again, experiencing the longed-for and cherished applause of the audience. Now, without her life-long companion, she comes back to life as a woman and an artist.

Director’s Statement

Photo (c) Cine Latino 2009

I remember very well that after just thirty seconds of sitting on her sofa and talking to her, I knew that María had to be in the film. Photo (c) Cine Latino 2009

When does a film really begin? I am not speaking about the fade-in on the screen, but of the moment when a film idea starts to form itself. To push and scream as it comes alive…

I remember very well the very first moment I met María Nieves in Buenos Aires. It was very late in the night and she was smoking a cigarette outside a milonga. I told her that I was preparing a film about tango and that I would very much like to talk to her. She was kind and charming – as she mostly is – and gave me an appointment a couple of days later at her home.

I remember very well that after just thirty seconds of sitting on her sofa and talking to her, I knew that María had to be in the film.

I remember very well, how I felt when some days after that encounter I read Juan Carlos Copes’ autobiography “¿Quien Me Quita Lo Bailado?“. While I was turning the pages of this book, I couldn’t get it out of my head that the film has to be about both, María and Juan, the greatest tango couple of all time!

Some years have passed since then. The making of the film became a real challenge. Sometimes a wonderful and sometimes a difficult and dangerous journey.

Photo (c) Alejandra Gutty 2017

Many years ago I left my hometown Buenos Aires for Germany, dreaming of making my own films. Photo (c) Alejandra Gutty 2017

During this journey I encountered and collaborated with fantastic artists: First of all María and Juan, but also all our dancers, and choreographers who gave their all to create startling performances. I also had a really tremendous crew behind the camera. People who love films and all worked very hard to make this the best film it could be. I am also extremely grateful to my co-producers Nils Dünker and Dieter Horres, who were courageous enough to undertake this journey with me.

And I will always be grateful to the generous help of Wim Wenders, my former teacher at the Munich Film School, who kindly accompanied me on this journey.

Many years ago I left my hometown Buenos Aires for Germany, dreaming of making my own films. And it was this same need which brought me back to Buenos Aires years later to make “Our Last Tango”. This shows us, that although we like to think our paths in life are straight and linear, more often than we think they are actually circular… In so many ways like a tango.

OUR LAST TANGO is, above all, a love story – a true love story. About a man and a woman who couldn’t live with or without each other for nearly a decade. A man and a woman who learned to love the tango in those 50 years, only to see it wither and later blossom again.

Juan Carlos Copes, 84, and María Nieves, 81, met in Buenos Aires during the golden age of the tango, when she was 14 and he was 17. Juan and María soon became a couple, on and off the dance floor. But they weren’t just any pair of dancers: they were the most famous tango dancers in Buenos Aires and, eventually, in the entire world. No one could dance the tango as fast, as elegantly, and as passionately as they could.

– German Kral,

Director Director’s Bio

Photo (c) Alejandra Gutty 2017

German Kral was born in 1968 in Buenos Aires and moved to Germany in 1991 to study film at the Munich Film School. Photo (c) Alejandra Gutty 2017

German Kral was born in 1968 in Buenos Aires and moved to Germany in 1991 to study film at the Munich Film School. He has a son and is based in Munich and Buenos Aires. Between 1993 and 1996 he worked with Wim Wenders on the feature film “A Trick of the Light”.

His diploma film “Images of the Absence”, was nominated for the German Grimme Prize and awarded the First Prize at the Yamagata Film Festival in Japan, as well as receiving the Young Bavarian Documentary Film Award.

His film “Música Cubana“ (2004), executive produced by Wim Wenders, had its international premiere at the Venice Film Festival and has been sold all over the world. His film “The Last Applause” (2008), a German, Argentinean, Japanese co-production, received the “FFF Talent Award” at the DOK.FEST Munich and the “Starter Film Prize” of the City of Munich.

Today

Photo (c) Rotten Tomatoes 2016

Juan and María are still active tango dancers today. He continues to dance every night in one of the most renowned tango shows in Buenos Aires. Photo (c) Rotten Tomatoes 2016

María Nieves Rego (81) was born in 1934 in Buenos Aires. She grew up in a humble environment and had a difficult childhood. Because money was tight, she had no toys and had to learn to improvise. She made dolls out of soda bottles and a skirt out of pieces of cloth. When her father passed away, she had to go and work. She was 11 when she started cleaning houses. Even as a girl she went to the “milongas” (tango dance clubs) with her sister, but she was only allowed to watch, not to dance. At one of these milongas she met Juan Carlos when she was 14. He was 17. A year later they started dancing together and soon after they became a couple.

Juan Carlos Copes (84) was born in 1932 in Buenos Aires. He, too, comes from a modest family. He was a good student and was interested in soccer and engines, as were all the boys in Buenos Aires back then. At 17 he discovered the world of tango almost by accident: he went to a milonga with friends and was instantly so fascinated by the dance and the people dancing it that he decided to learn the tango. From then on he went to a different milonga every night, where he asked any woman he could to dance with him. It was at one of these milongas that he saw María for the first time.

María and Juan became the most famous tango pair of a dance club called “Atlanta.” Their reputation and skills kept growing until they won the national tango competition in 1951. A few years later they began to tour throughout Latin America and performed together with the famous composer Astor Piazzolla. Then came New York and Las Vegas. They married in 1965. But Juan left immediately afterwards to tour the world – without María, who stayed behind in Buenos Aires. For years María and Juan had a passionate and stormy love affair that seemed to fuel their creativity when they were dancing. Even during the roughest times they kept dancing together. And when interest in tango in Buenos Aires hit its lowest point in the fifties, it was María and Juan who rescued the tango from the dying clubs and resurrected it on stage in tango shows.

In 1976 their relationship suffered its biggest blow when Juan became a father for the first time. María wasn’t the mother; it was a woman twenty years his junior. María had always wanted to have kids, but never did – perhaps for professional reasons. In 1983, when Claudio Segovia brought the Broadway musical “TANGO ARGENTINO” to Paris – and later to the entire world – Juan and María became the most famous tango pair of the show. María and Juan kept dancing together, even if they didn’t speak a word to each other before or after the shows – until 1997, when Juan stopped asking her to perform with him. For María this was a huge blow. She withdrew and became depressed, until she got a part in the musical “Tanguera” in 2000. She reconnected with tango and the audience, which loves her to this day.

Juan and María are still active tango dancers today. He continues to dance every night in one of the most renowned tango shows in Buenos Aires.

María still teaches and serves on juries. Off and on, she still dances, receiving standing ovations.

Today, Juan has two daughters (33 and 36) and lives with his wife. María lives alone.

María and Juan only see each other occasionally. Since their last performance in “Tango Argentino,” they have rarely danced with each other …