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The Kitchen

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Flash Review 2, 5-3: Now That's Entertainment!!!
Blanca Li Will "Zap! Zap! Zap!" You!

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2001 Faith Pilger

"Where the hell is the intern?" snarls a voice from above and behind. I'm still taking in the extravagance of the environment. More like an installation than a set, it has transported me from the usually chilly vacancy of The Kitchen to the florescent land of television, pop culture and a certain "Je ne sais quois."

The irritated voice returns. It's a voice that we will become familiar with (Bernie Collins) as the director of this television show; this show of which we are the studio audience. And so we begin by being included. Even to the point of having the camera turned on us, literally. We meet the cameraman and the technician (the same guy, with tattoos and long dreads) and we help to check levels, clapping hard as the "applause" sign appears on a large screen. We hear the director ready to quit his job. And just as we are settling in for the START of the show.... Zap! Zap! Zap! Diva Blanca Li.

Mona (Ms. Li) is the mentally unstable hostess with a charming toothy grin and a brutally honesty streak. Quickly Mona is replaced in her chair by a mannequin with a television for a head, whose full screen is filled with Mona's plastic grin. With startling ease, Ms. Li interacts with her (recorded) TV-self as she appears in countless acts and interviews. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that this is a show based on precision of timing. But here is where the hybrid begins.

While we feel comfortable in the setting (we are not at a dance concert that begs the question, "How am I supposed to interpret this stuff?"), we are still at a cabaret. This means we never really know what will happen. While the timing and precision of the dancing and acting are impeccable, each act still has true spontaneity. "Blanca Li brings the culture back to cabaret and vice versa" (press quote). I must agree.

The Spanish-born Ms. Li, who has hosted a very successful cabaret "Fiesta" in France since 1993 (among other great accomplishments), is clearly in command of this art form. She has fabulous style, grace and apparently limitless personality. She is very multi-talented: an ex-gymnast with the body to match, a beautiful dancer with diverse training, an actress/comedian, a choreographer and a smart business woman who has a dance company and pays her dancers well without (surprisingly) a government subsidy. Oh yes, and she has won at least four awards for her short film, "Angoisse," which was included in this show.

Without getting into the details of the numerous acts played by Ms. Li (both live and filmed segments), I can't help but mention at least the diversity which they represent: A trashy weather girl who sings the jingle for the show's sponsor, "Victor's Secret, King of the Jockstrap," and who talks of Mexico while pointing to Canada, and dodges rain, sleet and snow that literally get her wet; a filmed cooking show in which Ms. Li and a drag queen are cooking paella -- don't mind the bloody fingers and nail tips that get cut off with the veggies and thrown into the pan (this had me rolling); an intellectually snobbish post-modern dancer who REALLY sucks; a stunning vertical dance on hanging cloth, as great as any Cirque de Soleil performance; "Swan Lake" (on pointe) with a well-endowed mannequin partner; a nostalgic French chanson, sang into the laps of men in the audience; and an opera singer who literally bounces around the stage on her fat belly. She even handed the audience apples, oranges and (of course) bananas in her final Tropicana number.

Trivia Fact: We were told at the top of the show that, besides being an icehouse, The Kitchen (before it was a performance space) was also a television studio.

Thanks to Blanca Li for taking us back there for some real entertainment -- inspiring, daring, smart, and extremely funny. As far as these types of shows are concerned, I think it is one of the best I've ever seen. Particularly on the dance level. Two phat thumbs up!

Blanca Li's "Zap! Zap! Zap!" continues at The Kitchen through Saturday, with performances at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit The Kitchen web site.

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