Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


Re:moving with Tao Ye

The acclaimed choreographer is minimalism personified.


Published: 21 Aug 2020

Pen 2

Updated: 22 Sep 2023

Time taken : ~10mins

Forsaking narrative, message and theatrics, Tao Ye has earned both notoriety and fame for his zealous fixation on the body in his works.

Absurd! Pointless! Unnecessarily repetitive. The critics will be critics. But it is irrefutable that choreographer Tao has done what few in his field have accomplished: a spectacularly elegant exercise in alienating the spectator, challenging the aesthete and arousing the zealot, all at the same time, every time, with his nuanced presentations of movement borne of rigorous body-focused techniques.

My works aim to show that you can have more freedom when you are limited. It's like decoding your body. If you are not allowed to move your hands, you may find your shoulders are more flexible; when you restrict your legs, your torso may be freed. Through limitation, you can get more focused and explore the potential of certain parts of the body,

Tao Ye, in an interview with Xinhuanet

For over a decade, Tao has been developing a technique called the Circular Movement System, which his dancers are trained in. It includes the initiation and continuous transmission of movement, uninhibited by any concept, even those of space or gravity. Over the years, this technique has been fleshed out in Tao's avant garde Numerical series, Weight x 3, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, which has earned him worldwide acclaim.

Titles? Not for Tao. In programme notes for 6 and 7, he says, "No specific words can express the meaning of tonight’s performance. Rather, these pieces are permeated with our conceptions of ‘the body’ and physical practice. So what your eyes perceive is exactly what our hearts hope to express.”

Shunning labels, including that of being a Chinese choreographer, Tao founded TAO Dance Theater (陶身体剧场) in 2008 to do “pure dance”, to eliminate any categorisation of movement, and by extension, of himself. He was 22 at the time. A graduate of Chongqing Dance School, Tao had danced with some of China’s most prestigious dance companies including the Beijing Modern Dance Company before starting out on his own. TAO Dance Theater has received critical acclaim internationally, and Tao is one of China’s leading voices in culture and dance today.

We catch up with this fascinating personality, ahead of the run of his 13 & 14 at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade from 13–15 Oct 2023.

Cover photo: Fan Xi

What is a typical day like for you?

Going for rehearsals with Duan Ni (his wife and founding dancer / Artistic Director of TAO Dance Theater) and the company.

Duan Ni, Tao Ye and their dog 彩霞 (cai xia, sky hues)

How did the Covid-19 pandemic, which at its worst put severe restrictions on an individual's mobility, affect your dance practice?

Because of the limitation of mobility, Duan Ni and I eventually had some time to do something that we had always wanted to do but we never had time to. We have always wanted to create a series of short videos to express the artistic concepts of TAO Dance Theater.

I shared some of my understanding and thoughts of my creations in the videos. We named these videos Beautiful Presents and we have made 19 videos. We posted these videos on the company’s social platforms hoping those who like dance and TAO Dance Theater can watch and feel TAO’s creations at home.

Loneliness – does that feeling terrify or endear itself to you? Why?

I think I’m very lucky working in the dance world, which can help me to dispel the fear of loneliness. Dance is an art of connection. It creates live communication through the expressions of bodies and finally connects everyone together.

You have continued developing new works in your Numerical Series. How are 13 & 14 different from the previous works?

What hasn't changed is the direction of the Numerical Series, which is about new explorations of the body and physicality. Within this direction, every work has its important breakthroughs, setting up to different degrees new languages and textures of dance.

What keeps you hopeful? What keeps you moving?

I’m always longing for positive communication with people. Dance is about building more live scenes, seeing each other, discovering, and communicating. These are things that I want, they keep me going.

The original intention on which Duan Ni and I founded TAO Dance Theater, was to let more people in our country see and feel that the body could move like this (in a completely different way). Over the past 15 years, we have been discussing how TAO Dance Theater could give closer attention to the bodies of others because everyone has a body, which is the source of empathy and human connection.

In the future, I hope that the Circular Movement System, the training technique explored and created by the company, will be further promoted in China, and more people will discover and wake up their bodies.

Tell us what your next work or creative project is about.

I’m currently creating 15 in The Hague, Netherlands with the dancers of NDT 1. (The world premiere of 15 was on 22–23 Sep 2023.)

A word or a phrase to sum up your life/practice right now.

One word: purity.

Catch 13 & 14 by TAO Dance Theatre at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade taking place from 13–15 Oct 2023 as part of da:ns focus – CAN (Connect Asia Now)


Tao Ye

Tao Ye is the founder, artistic director and choreographer of the acclaimed TAO Dance Theater, established in 2008. The company has toured extensively in China and travelled to more than 40 countries in the world for performances, and choreography and teaching residencies in over 70 festivals and venues, including Europalia (Brussels), Culturescapes, M-A-D-E Festival (Sweden), Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance and the American Dance Festival. Sadler’s Wells (UK) had commissioned the company for three consecutive years and invited the company to perform in London on several occasions. Tao has received numerous prestigious awards, including Sadlers Wells' New Wave Associates in 2012.

Download the interview in Mandarin
As things around us move beyond our control, artists around the world revisit movement and redefine what it means to move.

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