‘Solstice’ by Blanca Li ~ review

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‘Solstice’ – copyright Nico Bustos

After successfully portraying the world of artificial intelligence in her 2013 creation ‘Robot’, Blanca Li continues logically on to exploring nature, and its relation with humans, in her new and exciting piece ‘Solstice’.

The curtain opens, and it’s back to the very beginnings of humanity – the rhythm and the movement is primitive, tribal, the basic, nude costumes (designed by Laurent Mercier) accentuate the rawness.

The music, composed by Tao Gutierrez, is often created by the dancers themselves, who use their feet, hands, voice and breath to give a loud and clear rhythm. Sometimes the incredibly elegant African percussionist and singer Bachir Sanogo appears on the stage to produce the music in a variety of ingenious ways.

The two simple elements of scenery are so clever you can’t help thinking, “How have I never seen this before?”. A white slope stretches across the back of the stage – this is used as a mountain, a wave, a sand dune, a slide … Li’s choreography uses it brilliantly, often as a way for the dancers to disappear off and then appear back onto the stage as if emerging out of the landscape itself.

The sky is created by meticulously attached, gently floating white material, lit and manoeuvred to become part of the nature evolving on the stage.

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‘Solstice’ – copyright Nico Bustos

The 1 hour and 40 minute long performance began by exploring the four elements, earth, wind, water and fire. In the second scene, wind machines blow long pieces of white material attached to the dancers’ costumes to create magical shapes, which eventually become clouds when the strong wind escalates into a storm. The stage then becomes an ocean, the projected waves crashing off the slope.

Needless to say Li does not stop at the four basic elements – every aspect of nature is delved into. In the dessert, for example, the dancers use large semi-spheric bowls to create a powerful rhythm – water is then celebrated as a soloist performs in a river while the percussionist creates perfectly synchronised splashing sounds in real water to the side of the stage. Later on, a number of draped dancers become blocks of ice, detached, presumably from a melting ice cap, engulfing the only human left on stage. A humorous sequence where the dancers use their breath to suck in or blow away their own or their neighbour’s body parts had all the audience chuckling.

The best was certainly saved for last. It could be dust, or particles of pollution, or it could be soil – that is probably open to interpretation – whatever it is, it’s falling, at first slowly, delicately from the sky onto the centre stage soloist, before the other dancers, noses and mouths covered with black masks, appear with bowlfuls of it. They make shapes, spread it around – before long, the stage is thickly covered in fine, black dust. The choreography becomes almost a hip-hop battle, and the curtain closes as it opened, with a loud beat and rhythmic movement. This time, nature is not at its beginning, but at its end.

The 10-minute standing ovation the dancers received was more than deserved – their stamina and powerful interpretation was truly admirable. ‘Solstice’ overall was quite simply creative genius – so honest, so deceptively uncomplicated, yet absolutely game changing.

If you want to find out more about Blanca Li’s company and work, click here.

To find out more about ‘Solstice’, click here.

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