Review: Solstice – raging against the current trends in contemporary dance

Solstice - Blanca Li

Granada-born choreographer Blanca Li and her eponymously named dance company may call Paris their base, but Spain opens its welcoming arms each time she returns with a new production, warmly receiving its native daughter.  

The four-night run of Li’s Solstice – a production created in collaboration with Paris’ Chaillot Théâtre national de la Danse, where it premiered in September 2017 – was received each night by near sold-out crowds at Madrid’s Teatros del Canal from October 31 to November 3, demonstrating Li’s dedicated fanbase in the Spanish capital.

In program notes for Solstice, Li explains that a growing concern for climate change and the destruction of the natural world led her to create the work. She claims that the piece was her way of contributing to environmental awareness building by showing that “nature is a bottomless source of inspiration. Powerful and poetic.”

Nature as a source of inspiration is an age-old trope in literature and the performing arts, and one that executed well can indeed inspire appreciation for the world with which so many of us have lost touch.

By adding a message regarding the urgent need for conservation and self-preservation, a work can take on new relevance that if well executed will spur conversation, reflection and, even better, action. Unfortunately, Solstice accomplishes none of these things.

Solstice - Blanca Li © Laurent Philippe
Solstice – Blanca Li © Laurent Philippe

Anyone who read the show description in the handbill, would be preparing for a performance wrought with volatility and power, as the world’s climate becomes more extreme and man battles the elements, but both the show’s visual aspects – predominantly projections and rippling wave-like fabrics hanging from the ceiling – and its choreography seemed more concerned with awing and delighting than impacting and challenging.

The work’s purported message seemed completely lost in a hodgepodge of scenes knitted together incoherently. Warmly lit, vibrant scenes flow into a scene with wind and projected snow, maybe Li is taking us through the seasons, but then we have cracking icebergs and deserts, so maybe she’s referencing the effects of climate change, but then there is the water and land, so maybe we’re focusing on natural elements. Thematically, Solstice is literally all over the place, yet the issues of urgency and a fight for survival that go hand in hand with conservation and climate change are nowhere to be found.

We can often be persuaded to look the other way when it comes to thematic inconsistency as long as the dance inspires, but even on that critical point, Solstice falls far too short.  Li’s choreographic style – raging against the current trends in contemporary dance – strives for simplicity of movement, and this can often be an enticing quality.  As much beauty can be found in simplicity as in complexity, especially when it involves the human form, but in Solstice, the movement that should read as the elegance of simplicity comes off as simply limp and often under-rehearsed.

Solstice - Blanca Li
Solstice – Blanca Li

With a troupe of 14 dancers, there isn’t a single moment of uniformity, often key to the concept of simplicity in movement.  It’s rare that the corps de ballet truly appears to be working as a company, as opposed to over a dozen of isolated moving bodies.  This lends itself to moments of visual chaos, especially when wind and gauzy, flowing fabrics are involved.

Yet Solstice’s greatest shortcoming is probably the fact that at no point does it seem like the dancers are dancing to their true ability.  Throughout the entire performance, you are left with a feeling of wanting more, more coherence, more clarity, more depth, more brilliance.  This unfulfilled desire is likely to leave most checked out by the middle of this hour-and-forty-minute production that ultimately falls flat and leaves talented dancers floundering.      

Reviewed at Teatros del Canal on 3rd of November