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Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
March 2–3, 2012
You don’t hear much about breakdancing in Britain. The craze that has swept the globe only surfaces here in clubs, classes, and music videos. However, there’s a wildly enthusiastic public for the daredevil gyrations of breaking, as Blanca Li’s talented dance troupe has proved during its debut U.K. tour. Performed by eight Frenchmen, age 18–22, who have received no formal dance training, Li’s exhilarating Elektro Kif explodes with the muscular invention that powers breakdancing in its natural urban setting.
Electro has been called a mixture of breaking, disco, voguing, popping and locking. Having accidentally discovered the style while watching schoolboys in a Parisian park, the Spanish-born choreographer has welded her more experienced performers into a disciplined unit by creating a structure for their spontaneous creativity. In the course of 70 minutes, they progress through a typical school day, rearranging desks and chairs as the scene shifts between class, gym, lunchroom, and study hall.
As in real life, from the moment each dancer enters he flashes his personality like a graffiti tag to define his unique identity within the group. But for the stage, Li has imposed rigorous order on the chaos the men would ordinarily bring to their physical duelling. So the competitive aspect of breakdancing, which originally allowed rival gangs to express their hostility without fighting, only flourishes in a brilliantly mimed basketball game and in occasional shoving.
One shove develops into a slow, meditative duet, danced to a romantic piano solo, that ends in a slightly abashed handshake. That brief encounter comes as a welcome relief, because most of the action unfurls at breakneck speed in unbroken waves of interlocking limbs, impossibly dislocated joints, semaphoring arms, and twisting wrists.
Though rapid-fire mimed passages of eating or typing give the dancers a chance to sit down and catch their breath, most of the time they’re on their feet, either taking turns to show off or smoothly matched in perfect unison or canon. Even hunched over their desks to take an exam, the young men flex and slither as they contort themselves to read the scribbled notes they’ve hidden out of sight.
Spinning casually on their head or shoulders, two of them defied gravity with the risky moves that characterize breakdancing in the street. One sly dancer winked as he preened and posed, voguing nonchalantly. All of them used their thighs and knees like springs to reverse direction or rebound from the floor. The electro style, however, flows specifically from the whiplash energy of the arms, which compel the body to follow their astonishing lead.
Simply touring abroad must be an education for the performers, some of whom have never before left France. The British public is learning from them too, because we seldom see gifted young artists whose evident pleasure in dancing is as astounding as their skill.
Photos at top and bottom by Dan Aucante; middle photo by Laurent Paillier. All courtesy Blanca Li Company.