This cabaret program of 20 or so of the tango’s “greatest hits,” artfully designed for a corps of dancers by choreographer Jorge Niedas, is meant to be a sketch of its journey to the cultural mainstream, from turn-of-the-century whorehouse to tango salon to contemporary concert hall. Niedas shies away from the Vegas glitz of Forever Tango and the grandiose renditions of classical players like Daniel Barenboim; he insists on the authenticity of the Argentine version, which is understated and eloquent–even more so than the continental variety promoted by the likes of Juan Jose Mosalini. Niedas’s direction underscores the appealing paradoxes of the tango–its simultaneous lustiness and formality; its rigorously prescribed steps, interrupted by bouts of improvisation; its vogue in upscale Paris nightclubs of the 20s, just a generation after its birth in red-light districts an ocean away. Even the narrative framework of Cafe Tango 2000 reinforces the tango’s characteristic tension between hope and sorrow: A dancer (Niedas) remembers a lost love (Sandra Adrian) on the eve of the millennium, evoking Argentina’s turbulent past–the woman, like many others, disappeared during the military dictatorship of the 70s. She emerges ghostlike while a voice offstage (Marga Mitchell) sings the standard “Que tango hay que cantar?” (“Which Tango Must Be Sung?”). As if in reply, the dancer begins to name songs, cuing an onstage band and sometimes other dancers; the tunes include Gardel’s “Mano a mano” and Piazzolla’s “Buenos Aires hora cero” and “Vuelvo al sur.” He’s both recounting his own past and tracing the history of the tango, from the “old guard” period (late 1890s to late 1920s) to the “classical” (30s and 40s) to the “nuevo” (60s and 70s). Most of the numbers feature the bandoneon, which is to the tango what the accordion is to the polka; tonight it will be played by Raul Jaurena, who picked up the difficult instrument while a boy in Montevideo, then toured with a number of tango orchestras, including Piazzolla’s. The singers are Mitchell and Eduardo Nijensohn, a Buenos Aires native who also teaches radiology. Friday, 7:30 and 10 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited tango photo.