Sadler’s Wells, London
May 24, 2019
TAO Dance Theater (陶身體劇場) offers a very different dance experience from the emotional charge we usually expect in the theatre. Choreographer and founder Tao Ye (陶冶) is simply about the human form moving in space with mathematical precision. There is magic in numbers and he has devoted himself to developing his own unique movement system and presenting the result in the company’s Numerical Series, his theory being that the objectivity of numbers offers an escape from titles that direct our thoughts and invites a limitless interpretation of the works.
It’s a form that is well tailored to suit these highly disciplined Chinese dancers dressed in workman uniformity in shades of grey. Their fluid, boneless movement quality, where every joint and muscle operates with cat-like ease, are well equipped to explore the inventive possibilities in this neutral space.
Chinese indie-folk-rock composer, Xiao He (小河) , created the sound accompaniment for both works. In line with the movement concept and design, the vocals and percussive sounds are stripped down and minimal, shifting almost imperceptibly, to initiate a mood or movement shift.
4 is a well-ordered number that could be interpreted in two duets, four solos or a quartet, with no odd numbers and nothing left over. In Tao’s interpretation of the number, the control is visible in dance configured in a diamond shape that remains a constant for the thirty-minute duration. Within the confined structure, the dancers move in constant rhythm never making contact, never losing proximity in choreography of subtly variation. Their faces are masked as all expression is filtered through the mesmeric motion.
9 is a different ball game, opening on a stage scattered with moving bodies. While the movements have a similar genesis, each dancer finds an individual trajectory. Their lithe bodies roll and slide with spellbinding ease. There is elastic torsion in the spine and they are as mobile on knees as on feet. Like a murmuration of starlings, there seem to be a set of unwritten rules that each one knows instinctively, creating a community of individuals with a common purpose. The effect is hypnotic, building to a final collective pause, roll and stand when they patiently wait as the lights slowly fade. The experience has something of the quality of mindfulness holding a rapt audience in the still darkness.