TAO Dance Theatre in 6 and 8

Sadler’s Wells, London
October 4, 2016

Charlotte Kasner

Darkness. More darkness. Extra darkness added. No – wait a minute – there’s fug. Lots of fug. Gallons of fog juice have been sacrificed to produce stage full of fug. And darkness. It could have been a London particular, common in the old incarnations of the Wells, were it not for the grinding electronic noise that reminded us that we were very much in the 21st century.

Gradually, the fug cleared a tad and the darkness mellowed and it was apparent that six dancers (6 – geddit?) were writhing upstage. At first all that was apparent were arms pumping up and down like a connecting rod on an engine. Pump, pump, pump they went until more fug cleared and bodies loomed. Seemingly joined at the hip they formed a strange conga line, like black friars glued together by a mischievous schoolboy. They dipped, they twisted, they rolled their heads but to no avail. Fixed they were.

Gradually, the grinding noise resolved itself into the contorted bowings of haggard string players – snatches of sound conveyed via a badly tuned crystal set. All rather Radiophonic Workshop circa 1970. Actually, the dancers would have made a decent Dr Who monster but one feels that wardrobe would have come up with something a bit snazzier than black sackcloth. There was some more dipping and circling and writhing. And some more. Then even more. On and on they went, 35 very long minutes of it. The poor cicada-thing could not rid itself of its pupa and so it finally stopped. And that was lovely.

TAO Dance Theatre in 8Photo Zhang Shengbin
TAO Dance Theatre in 8
Photo Zhang Shengbin

Fortified by a rejuvenating elderflower cordial, we braced ourselves for 8. This one had light. Quite a lot of it and quite bright too. The eight in 8 weren’t bright though. They were grey. Very grey. They seemed to be undertaking some sort of ante-natal class. Crotches thrust towards us, they lay doing more writhing and a bit of heaving for good measure. Every so often a head would pop up to check on progress and then down they went again to have another writhe. Sometimes a leg would flip over and they even managed to wriggle in unison upstage and then slowly downstage again, writhing all the while. That was it. If there was anything else, I missed it.

I suspect that this was not easy to execute. I tried to catch them out a few times not being perfectly together but I wasn’t up to it. They beat me hollow every time. I found myself wondering what it would have been like to have been a fly on the wall in rehearsal. Did Tao Ye agonise over the repetitions – it must be 29, not 28 or 30 – only 29 will do? Did anyone ever mess up and cause a spectacular crash? How the heck did they know where they were amongst the grinding noises and constant monotony? Why did they eventually stop? (Why did they bother starting?)

This was not so much creative choreography as the sort of thing that one could imagine artificial intelligence would produce as a facsimile of choreography using an algorithm. Maybe that is what the age demands. It left me numb. I felt neither enlightened, uplifted, challenged or – more importantly – interested; and art is truly dead once it ceases to interest.

It is rumoured that 7 was absent due to suicide.