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TAO Dance Theater at Sadler’s Wells | Review

Tao Dance Theater - 4 & 9 - 4 New 2 (c) Tao Ye.
Tao Dance Theater – 4 & 9 – 4 New 2 (c) Tao Ye.

Tao Dance 4+9 starts with the audience in the dark. And that’s more or less how it finishes, too.

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have any desire to know what’s going on for about an hour, while a group of four, and then nine (hence the title) dancers mosh and bounce around the stage in matte grey and black outfits. Well, I’ve got good news for you.

Tao Ye’s piece makes no pretence of explaining itself, having a sense of narrative or characterisation. Heck, are these even people? After about 20 seconds of dark silence, lights flash up on four identically dressed figures who plop, bounce and slip around the stage with fantastic fluidity and fantastical flexibility for about 25 minutes. There seem to be about four ‘movements’ indicated by changes in music and lighting. The movements are all roughly the same- the performers shake and shimmy in complete unison, while accompanied by initially a capella chanting which changes into violas and some singing.

The second half is pretty similar, but the four are replaced by nine dancers, and Xiao He’s music becomes a little bit louder and less relaxing, with orchestral and vocal accompaniment switched out for hard clanging percussion. The absolute lack of unison means that any sense of character, theme or tone is lot, because no dancer performs the same movement, or even interacts with each other.

For me, this didn’t necessarily pose any problems. As a press invitee, I didn’t pay for my ticket, and was treated to a nice glass of wine in the press reception. I sat through an hour or so of rather visually appealing dance while musing on whether there was some sort of investigation of harmony and difference in the interplay between them, as enacted by the music and the dancers. I didn’t reach any conclusions, but hey, theatre doesn’t have to be didactic.

4 stars

Review by Thomas Froy

However, for someone who has paid for their seat (tickets to Sadler’s Wells range between £15 and £70), and hadn’t been treated to a free glass of wine, I wondered if the experience might not be so pleasant. Tao Dance doesn’t make any attempt to include the audience, there is no interaction among the performers themselves. There is neither an obvious politics, nor narrative element to the piece. With performances such as these, one wonders who the target audience is. No doubt, Sadler’s Wells attendees are a relatively self-selecting bunch in themselves, so perhaps Ye pitched the tone well enough.

I certainly can’t complain about any aspect of the show, but I wonder how satisfying this kind of show is for an audience who don’t attend the theatre 2-3 times per week, and who paid an awful lot more than I did. With highly conceptualised performances, it’s often not quite clear whether the intended audience is the paying public, or the mind of the director. An enjoyable performance, certainly, but who, exactly?

Taking China’s dance world by storm, TAO Dance Theater returns to Sadler’s Wells on 24 & 25 May with two pieces from its Numerical Series; 4, and the company’s latest work 9, which receives its UK premiere.

Known for its mixture of art forms and mesmeric qualities, TAO’s works are a continuation of minimalist experimentation which explore the potential of using the human body as a visual aspect, devoid of story-telling or representation.

The newest work, 9, draws inspiration from Chinese culture, hardship and renewal and is a crucial turning point in the Numerical Series.

TAO Dance Theater
4 & 9
Friday 24 & Saturday 25 May 2019


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