Choreographer Blanca Li brings the couture of Alaïa, Gaultier, and others to the dance stage in her new show Goddesses & Demonesses.
“The first time was with Sybilla,” recalls renaissance woman and dancer/choreographer Blanca Li, referring to her first-ever collaboration with a fashion designer. The work of this powerhouse flamenco and modern-dance virtuoso has been so co-mingled with la mode that it took a little brain-racking to remember her first foray into the realm of fashion. Li, who is sought after by everyone from Pedro Almadovar to Beyoncé, fell headfirst into the fashion world, arriving in Paris not long after her collaboration with the Spanish designer. It is no surprise then that her new show Goddesses & Demonesses, appearing at New York City Center for a limited engagement (March 30 to April 1) is costumed by fashion nobility —the likes of Azzedine Alaïa, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Sophie Theallet, and Stella McCartney. To top it off, the show also features Swarovski-encrusted masks crafted by Erik Halley, an accessories designer who has worked with everyone from Dior to Yamamoto.
Goddess & Demonesses is a pas de deux, mixing the vocabularies of modern dance, flamenco, and ballet, which Li choreographed for herself and Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Maria Alexandrova as an invocation of femininity inspired by Greek mythology. “And if we want to feel the power of the goddesses on the stage we have to look like goddesses,” Li insisted to me about the essential nature of the costumes to the work.
When I had walked into her sun-drenched studio an hour earlier, the women were rehearsing a section of the show entitled “Les Sorcières” (“The Witches”) — the performance is divided into four distinct parts, each with its own fashion designers creating costumes. For this segment, the ladies slipped on identical kaftanesque gowns with witches’ hoods, designed by Sophie Theallet. As they began to move, it became clear that the clothes in this show are as integral to the choreography as the dancers’ forms. Li’s and Alexandrova’s bodies become unintelligible from the black chiffon overlay of Theallet’s dresses, which they whip into arabesques of fabric with their ports de bras and ronds de jambe. I sat, entranced, as silk swirled and billowed with grandeur and great heaves that belied the delicacy of the cloth, a petite choreographic homage to dance pioneer Loie Fuller.
Theallet admits that costuming dance has its dissimilarities from creating for the runway. But, what rings true for both is that “you make a woman feel strong and beautiful.” “Strong and beautiful” certainly describes all the looks of the performance: Another section features a pair of sensual black-and-white gowns from a Gaultier couture collection, modified for the stage; in yet another, the bright citrus hues of Stella McCartney’s bias-cut frocks, which, according to the designer “celebrate color and movement and are the perfect fit for dance,” take center stage. Then there is the show-stopping, sanguine glory of the dress Alaïa created for Li’s solo.
“I always tell Azzedine, your dress is alive. It has a strength, it has a movement, it takes you,” Li said of the shape-shifting frock, which she commands into submission. “In it you will see a little bit of flamenco, you will see blood, you will see death and life and … a thousand different images.”
Tickets can be purchased here.