Spanish-born choreographer Blanca Li loves a good challenge as shes proven once again with the premiere of her first feature film Le Défi (The Challenge), a hip hop musical comedy, starring herself, Amanda Lear, and a cast of 150 top hip-hoppers recruited from all over Europe and the States.
I think the title fits the film well because it was a very difficult, but exciting project, explains Li. In recent years Ive had the chance to work with different directors, choreographing sequences in their clips and films, and when I finally felt I had learned enough, I wanted to shoot my own project.
Le Défi is fun entertainment. Its a dance film for dance lovers, says Li. The plot, reminiscent of West Side Story, features a group of teenage dancers, The Urban Cyber Breakers, who are fed up with school and burning with a flame for fame that would be theirs if they could only outdance a rival group. If they carry it off they get to go to New York. and a chance to win the best hip-hoppers in the world trophy. All this, of course, intertwines with a teenage romance that blossoms amid the challenges met by the dancers from one stage to the next.
Resolutely independent, notoriously self-sufficient, and fiercely driven in that Hollywood-style hey, lets put on a show manner, Li has come an incredibly long way since her own teenage years as a prodigy on Spains national gymnasts team.
Li gave up gymnastics, enthusiastically took up flamenco, and like most aspiring dancers in the 80s, eventually set off to New York where she studied for five years at the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey Schools. Back home in Madrid, she founded her first company, but decided to pack up and came to Paris in 1993, where dance contemporaine was booming. Challenge number one was underway...
Getting recognition in the insular French dance world hasnt come easy. Still, despite of the fact that her company remains unsubsidized, shes found plenty of theaters over the past decade, willing to co-produce a vibrant repertoire of works, including Nana and Lila, Salomé (a feminist parody on the Biblical tale), Stress and Macadam Macadam in which she explored hip hop for the first time.
What sets her apart is that she likes to do things on a bold Broadwayesque-scale. Li is a true 21st century Renaissance woman with seemingly unlimited talent and originality. When shes not with her company, shes venturing into TV and cinema choreographing, making video clip numbers for The Rita Mitsouko and other rock groups, staging operas and creating one-woman shows (Zap! Zap! Zap! is a fantastic parody of amateur hour TV shows). More recent challenges? Setting up a trendy Paris dance center near Strasbourg St. Denis (Le Centre Chorégraphique Blanca Li) or, as of late, directing the Berlin Ballet at the Komische opera.
But, further challenges lie in the wings... For Li, the girl whose favorite films include Singin in the Rain and Cabaret, the great défi now is to create a motion picture genre in which dance will once again have a real role to play. When the big musicals were made, the dance scenes evolved and were fantastically thought-out, Li stresses. Today people want to shoot everything in a few hours. Dance is something that needs to be nurtured and rehearsed a long time before it can be filmed.Thats what we did for Le Défi. It was long, but nothing was left to chance
and the cast had a great time.