Culture

Goddesses & Demonesses Is Blanca Li’s Ballet of Womanhood

Showcasing the complexity of women with costumes by fashion's biggest designers

With a red dress sweeping around her, famed choreographer Blanca Li performs a solo for her show, Goddesses & Demonesses. The fabric is an extension of her movements, both part of her body and the space around it. The gown is Alaïa.

“It’s a celebration of women’s power. And it’s about being many different women, and transforming constantly into different characters,” Li said of her work at a post-performance cocktail reception at New York City Center in midtown. “Some [of the characters are] mythological goddesses, but some are also from the story of the dance—female choreographers, and also who we are today as women, as dancers.” The show, which premiered in Paris in 2015, explores aspects of womanhood through archetypes, yet does not put women into either/or boxes. Instead, it illustrates how duality exists within women—that we are complex, multi-faceted individuals. “There is not really a ‘narrative’ storyline, but there are many different stories crossing each other. We interpreted many different kinds of women,” she explained. “Sometimes in the same dance we can be three different characters. The idea is to explore femininity in many different ways.”

Though there are sequences where Li and her co-star Maria Alexandrova are dressed as opposites—one in black and one in white, or one in red and one in blue—their movements mirror each other, showing sameness rather than difference. As one might expect, the costumes take on an important role, and Li brought in the big guns to outfit her show: Alaïa, Stella McCartney, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Sophie Theallet all provided gowns that supported and showcased Li’s vision and choreography. “We had to make every costume work for what we are doing,” she explained of working with the pool of designers. “The costumes have to survive everyday or so [of performing]. I had them revise and change until they were ok.”

Theallet was on hand to support her friend of twenty years, finally getting to see the show after missing the Parisian debut. “I am in shock, because it’s so beautiful. It’s amazing, it’s so modern—it’s everything!” the designer gushed after the show. “[Li’s] a genius and everything that she touches she transforms into gold. Maria is a fantastic dancer, Blanca is a fantastic dancer—you’ve got the best of the best. And the other designers are fantastic, so it was just beautiful.”

By Theallet’s assessment, the show’s exploration of womanhood—as created and performed by women—could not be more relevant: “I think more than ever it’s so important to show that women are strong,” she said with pride. “If we want something, we have it. If we want to talk, we have the right to talk and to say whatever we are thinking.” And as Li and Alexandrova so gracefully proved on stage, the right to dance and express as well.

Goddesses & Demonesses is running for three nights at the New York City Center through April 1.

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