TAO Dance Theatre
Tao Ye’s visually stunning meditations play dextrous patterns but don’t always pull us in
This article is from 2015.
Choreographer Tao Ye has said of his performances that ‘no specific words can express the meaning.’ After witnessing the patterned, nuanced world in which his dancers create hypnotic riffs, you can see the sense in this. There is no truth about human emotion or metaphor for wider experience waiting to be pulled out here. All is pure dance, minimalist but expressive.
Tao doesn’t give his pieces titles, preferring to assign them numbers or quantifiers. Weight x 3 is broken down into three parts that form a symmetry; two duets punctuated by a phenomenal solo on a Chinese gun – the long staff used in martial arts – by Tao’s wife Duan Ni.
In Part I, two white-robed dancers build up a sequence of side and forward steps. There’s a clockwork toy charm to the pair, their sleeves dangling loose over their hands, and occasionally a lifted flex-footed leg brings a joyful spring into the mathematical frame. They fall deeper into the patterns as the dance progresses, scooping into each turn, growing in fluidity; the result does feel very zen and even through its abstraction you can feel the human touch.
Duan Ni is a lightning warrior in Part II, never letting up for a single beat as she creates a wheel of speed from a single staff. She’s hypnotic as a magician, and combined with Steve Reich’s music, that plays on aural perception of repetition, you begin to wonder if you might be dreaming her.
Part III carries a more classical feel, through its red and blue kimonos and fixed posture in the arms; elbows cocked, hands on pelvis. The codes of the pattern are sometimes exhausting to try and follow – like staring at a mosaic – but there is a momentum to it that keeps you bobbing along as the dance turns and weaves.
5, the second-act, is a more challenging piece to stay with. Its intense treacle-slow movement sees a clot of dancers tumbling around each other in a clockwise orbit of the stage. There’s something sensual and monstrous about the repetition, not knowing where one dancer ends and another begins. You do sense some progression – moments gleam, when a pair of legs cuts straight above the crowd or a dancer is lifted. But it demands rather than invites its audience’s patience on this journey inwards; after a while it all seems too serious and self-reverential to carry us with it.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, 18 Aug, 8pm, £10–£32 (£5–£16).