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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.
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 (陶身體劇場) 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 in this time of limited mobility.
Cover photo: Fan Xi
The company returned to work at the end of March this year. Dancers have started to train and rehearse works since then. I have been working with the dancers on the new creation 10 and rehearsing with them every day.
Over the last 12 years (pre-COVID), the company toured to ten or more countries every year and the touring schedules are always very intense. Basically, we are in a cycle of creating new work, rehearsing and touring every year. In the first half of 2019, we had a two-month tour in six countries in Europe. We had to start to work right after we landed. And in the second half of 2019, we co-produced a work Exchange with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. We spent over a half year together creating, rehearsing and performing.
Due to the pandemic, our planned international tours were postponed. This gave us a chance to slow our working pace down. During those uncertain days, our work had to be stopped for about two months, so my wife and co-founder of TAO Dance Theater Duan Ni and I could finally spend more time cooking, reading, watching TV series and walking our dog. But since we returned to work, we once again spend most of our time in the rehearsal studio.
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 so far. 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.
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.
I think that the development of China in the past 30 years has been too fast. It has surpassed the progress of many countries. Be it technology, economy, culture or arts, all the acceleration of development makes me feel that these affairs are too heavy and cannot be stopped. But at this time, the entire country and the environment have an opportunity to buffer and to reconstruct the content.
Recently, many friends have been bringing up the same question. Because of the pandemic, everyone has much more time than ever to be alone. How can we take advantage of this period of time to return to ourselves and re-examine ourselves? For the future, I think this is a special period of time for all human beings to develop their “internal power”!
TAO Dance Theater is a full-time dance company with 12 full-time dancers. From training dancers’ bodies to creating a work, we are always on the way to different kinds of creations. I would say rethinking, to me, is more about repeating thinking. And I believe the persistence of repetition can give everything ultimate meaning.
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 12 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.
I’m currently creating a new work called 10. The world premiere is expected in August in Guangzhou followed by a tour in ten cities in China. This work is about the understanding of life that I came to see during the pandemic. Because of the impact of this virus, the world began to deviate from the original track and develop in an uncertain direction. In the face of disaster, no one can stay away. And we shall overcome the difficulties together and spread love and hope with our own strength and spirit.
The number 10 symbolises the perfect meaning of perfection in Chinese culture. It represents my hope that the pandemic will dissipate as soon as possible. We can then walk into the theatres again and dance together. I also hope that this work will rouse the hope and love deep inside our hearts.
Two words: self-observing and self-understanding.
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.