At Blanca Li’s grand ball
A dizzying mix of technology and glamour
More whimsical than anyone who mixes dance, film and art, Blanca Li always manages to bring her imagination to life with creations animated by technology and glittering with glamour.
Le Bal de Paris is an immersive virtual reality show costumed by Chanel that encapsulates all the passions of an artist who in a 30-year career marked by eclecticism has maintained an unmistakable style.
“I wanted to create a show that didn’t exist yet and that I couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago,” Blanca Li says, alluding to a direction in which technological innovation was never just superficial, but complementary to the creative process.
This time, the choreographer and director gives us a thirty-five-minute-long experience that is dizzying to the senses and electrifying to mind, thanks to the sophisticated technology developed by BackLight Studio for virtual reality and Mocaplab for motion capture.
Complex technical equipment must be worn, consisting of a virtual reality helmet, a computer backpack and sensors strapped to the wrists and ankles, which literally allow the spectator to become part of the show. And since we are acting as guests at a grand ball, the avatar each of us has chosen should be dressed for the occasion.
“Spectators will find a magnificent virtual collection of Chanel clothes created exclusively for the show and can then choose what to wear,” Blanca Li enthusiastically explains. “There are ten pieces of women’s evening gowns and six men’s tuxedos, complete with shoes, jewellery, accessories-all in the Maison’s unmistakable style… très parisien! I wanted everyone to be able to experience wearing a fabulous piece for a masked ball: a dream come true… even if it is virtual.”
She could not have chosen any other label since she tends to highlight her Iberian beauty with the bold, oh-so-French elegance of Chanel at premieres of her shows and on official occasions. “I always pay a lot of attention to costumes in my creations. You know how much I love fashion!” the artist smiles. “For Le Bal de Paris, a project I started working on more than two years ago, I immediately thought of Chanel because I was looking for a label that identified with Parisian chic since my grand ball is held in the Ville Lumière. I collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld several times in the past, and once again my idea was enthusiastically accepted by the fashion house, which became an exclusive partner in the production.”
Contributing to the provocative mystery of a masked ball are the imaginative masks with animal features that virtually appear on the faces of participants. This is yet another coup de théâtre by an artist who is always willingly inspired by the hybrid creatures of mythological memory.
Once equipped and dressed for the event, participants can move wherever their curiosity takes them: dance alone or in pairs, interact with other guests and fully experience the three-act story Blanca Li has imagined.
The protagonist is Adèle, a young woman whose temperament and ambitions are so similar to the author of the show’s libretto. For both, the world is open to any adventure, artistic for Blanca, life related for Adèle, but Paris remains the centre of their universe. The virtual heroine returns there after travelling the world, and at the grand ball her father has organised in her honour, she finds her first love, Pierre, among the guests of the Tout-Paris. Despite the past tiffs of a painful farewell, the two fall in love once again, mending their lost connection.
“I imagined Adèle as independent, dynamic, strong-willed, ready to leave everything, even love, to follow and fulfil her aspirations, proud to live the life she has chosen for herself. But I also wanted my protagonist to thrill viewers with her romantic nature and her newfound romance,” explains the choreographer, who always imbues her shows and films with compelling plots. Even more so in this show, which virtually takes its guests on an adventurous journey, aboard a train and then a boat, to three settings in which the story unfolds: a majestic ballroom with soaring ceilings and enormous chandeliers, a lush garden of greenery that becomes the set of a garden party and a typical Parisian club with dancers lining the stage where the party continues.
Leading the participants are Adèle and Pierre themselves, played by two dancers from the Blanca Li Dance Company. Since the focus is on the technological effects and the allure of the costumes, the choreography of Le Bal de Paris is as impressive, as is it is true to her style, full of cross-contamination: classical, from her training as a dancer; flamenco from her home of Andalusia; old ballroom dances that she loves so much and hip-hop, which she encountered in the French banlieues. This time, however, her choreographic imagination had to accommodate the demands, or limitations, that the technical equipment had on the dancers. This was of little consequence to an enthusiast like Blanca Li, who personally experimented with the equipment on her slender, wiry body – finding joy like a child with a new toy – until she found unexpected choreographic solutions to pass on to her young dancers.
Her creation also found momentum in the original musical score, entrusted to a lifelong collaborator, Tao Gutierrez, who blended sounds just as Blanca Li intertwined choreographic themes to make the viewer’s experience as seductive and electrifying as possible.
The enthusiasm was good for her creation, which occurred at the height of the pandemic, when there were very few opportunities to experience Le Bal de Paris in person, involving only ten participants per session. Returning to an exclusive but also communal experience was even moving after the long months of isolation that the theatre world suffered. Blanca Li will not forget the reactions of the show’s participants (4,000 in three weeks!) when it debuted in December 2020 at Madrid’s Teatro del Canal, which she directs. Sensations they had never felt, something to be experienced at least once in a lifetime was the unanimous review.
“That’s exactly what I wanted,” Blanca Li concludes with satisfaction, “for all participants to forget that they are in a virtual world and to think, at the peak of the collective and festive experience of music and dance, “What an extraordinary experience this is!”
For those who then wanted to live that experience privately, without the physical thrill of sensory contact, Blanca Li came up with a film version of her show, so immersive and sophisticated that it earned the “best award” in the “Venice VR Expanded” section of the 78th Venice International Film Festival, where it competed in 2021. The artist was clearly happy and moved as she accepted it, looking beautiful in her Chanel evening gown.