TAO Dance Theater: 4 & 9 at Sadler’s Wells
Tonight’s bill at Sadler’s Wells is two pieces from Beijing-based choreographer Tao Ye’s Numerical Series, which has a minimalist aesthetic and an aim to explore the limits of human movement, through Tao’s Circular Movement System. As the first piece, 4, begins the auditorium is plunged into complete darkness, a bell rings and then strange, disorientating sounds start, composed by the choreographer’s long-time collaborator, the avant-garde composer Xiao He.
Four dancers appear on stage as the lights go up, dressed in androgynous grey drapes, with hats and grey painted faces. There is no focus on the face, or the gender of the performers, purely what their bodies can do. For the next 30 minutes they perform circular, sweeping movements in complete unison, moving across the stage in a diamond formation. The ensemble repeatedly make the movement of bending backwards from the waist, which looks uncanny as humans do not usually bend so far that way. It takes a huge amount of strength, stamina and precise memory to move constantly in unison for half an hour. Along with the discordant music, the movement proves to be hypnotic, with a trance-like feel that is almost tribal. This is dance with no narrative or emotion, it is pure movement. The percussion of the music speeds up along with the motions before slowing again. The music stops and all that can be heard is the dancers’ breathing. It provides an unexpected ending, reminding the audience of the pure physicality of the performance.
9 is a 20-minute piece with nine dancers, this time all doing different movements simultaneously. The number is significant in Chinese culture, representing a cycle of hardship and renewal. The effect is visually rich, with many different movements to focus on. Again the dancers wear plain grey costumes and all have short or shaved hair. The effect is somewhat dystopian and austere. The movements are controlled precisely and are impressive: leg extensions, headstands and other shows of flexibility and strength feature prominently. The dancers never touch, instead drawing closer together and then reeling apart across the luminous white stage. Again, they finish in silence, in a line, their breathing the only sound in a large auditorium, before a standing ovation ensues. An extraordinary, thought-provoking and meditative experience.
TAO Dance Theater: 4 & 9 was at Sadler’s Wells from 24th until 25th May 2019.