In March 2008, Tao Ye, then 22, and a member of the Beijing Modern Dance Company, founded the Tao Dance Theatre. His dancers' artistry stems from not just their dance education, but diverse and versatiles backgrounds in movement, art and music. Like many famous artists of the past, Tao wrote a 'manifesto' about his theories of dance. Some of the language is obscure, but I feel the performance helps to clarify some of his ideas. In fact, the work is all, and it is stunning.

Although his dance compositions vary, in the number of dancers cast amongst other things, compositions '6' and '7'(reviewed here) are for a group of dancers performing in unison. In '6' the curtain rises on an unlit stage, leaving the audience in dark silence. Next, a stringed instrument begins what will become a long, rhythmic repetition of sound, the bow passing back and forth over the one string. The music and the dance go through a 'ritualistic'  process, in Tao's words, of " accumulating, sculpting, and exploring." That is, the dance and music both building up to a crescendo through repetition of the same movements but with amplifications, that eventually diminish. The dancers are similarly dressed in black tunics and initially can hardly be seen on the stage, as the black robes fade into the stage's shadow and mist. There is a glimpse of a face or of a hand... Although Tao says that his dance is 'visual' , it is not in the representative sense of a painter's canvas. Lighting here is an independent player; not used to light the dance but rather to define the space on the stage. The group's dancing represents a kinesthetic or moving whole: we have a picture of the design or pattern of the movement, but not an acute awareness of the way the dance shapes itself in the space that surrounds it. It's not like a Barbara Hepworth sculpture where space becomes part of the sculpture.

What is, however, remarkable about the dancing is that Tao allows it to evolve in its own time. The process of growth took forty minutes in '6'. I think that by 'space', Tao means 'time'. Consider his dance as a form of meditation, and the concept becomes clearer.

© Marco Feklstoff
© Marco Feklstoff
The second piece in the programme, simply called (composition) '7', used similar forms but contrasted with the first piece in tempo, sound and delicacy. It was altogether softer.  Dressed entirely in white, elasticated tunics on a brightly white- lighted stage, the dancers moved to the vocals of Tao Ye and his dancers. The vocalisations sounded ritualistic -perhaps Buddhist chanting?

What of the dance's technical character? It is as if the energy emanates from the torso. All movement of the legs, feet and arms originates in the torso. There is extensive use of the spine through swings, contractions, arches and curls, torsos can move from side to side, as well as extend through the side and into the arm. The hips can face forward, while the upper body twists sideways, and the dancer can change direction from the impetus of a spiral. If the body were squeezed into a cylinder and asked to dance, it would have to withdraw the torso first for movement. There also is an element in Tao's technique in which one feels the pull of gravity towards the earth. It can be about weight bearing. Tao's technique shares somes features with Graham's technique but looks quite different because of the way his compositions develop, one movement growing from the previous one. The company of dancers is very accomplished, very sharp, even, and graceful in appearance. It is unisex. If '6' was unyielding and inescapable, '7' was a flight into light. 

I once spent a day at the Chinese Opera School near Taipei. There, one trained as either a singer or as an acrobat. There is a tradition in China, in the arts, of extensive use of the body. If Tao Ye is an example of contemporary dance in China, we can be filled with hope for a startling and sophisticated future.