TAO Dance troupe premieres '5' at NYU

Updated: 2014-02-25 11:50

By Amy He in New York (China Daily USA)

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TAO Dance Theater, a contemporary dance group from Beijing, titles all its pieces with numbers rather than words, something that founder and director Tao Ye believes to be essential to the group's artistic mission.

The group has performed six pieces so far - numbered "1" through "6" - and will be debuting "7" later this year. This past weekend, TAO Dance Theater revisited New York, reprising its well-received "4" and performing the US premiere of "5" at New York University.

"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," said Tao. "So what your eyes perceive is exactly what our hearts hope to express."

Performing at Skirball Center, the dance group stomped and writhed their way across the stage to "4" and 5," each piece titled to indicate how many performers were in the dances.

In "4", four dancers move in tandem across a stark, white stage to the rhythm of loud, punctuated chanting. The four swirl and bend for more than half an hour to the score of Indie-folk-rock composer Xiao He. The dancers' heads are covered in black cloth and their faces are painted in black, the starkness almost matching the unrelenting tempo of the score.

The performance of "5," shown in the US for the first time, is a clear opposite of the non-stop, pulsating movements in "4", With five dancers in this routine, movement is much slower and less in-sync: dancers are tangled across each other, rolling around the stage in a slow crawl, bundled in bodies in circles across the stage.

The dancers move to much more soothing sounds, also scored by Xiao, and each of the five circles that the dancers make across the stage match the five different sounds of the elements of nature, Tao said in a post-show discussion.

During his creation process, Tao said that he usually choreographs a routine based on visual images first before coming up with the music. But with "5", once Xiao came up with the music, the structure of the music began affecting the choreography and eventually added more layers to the dance that didn't exist prior.

While the dance for "5" is less structured than that in "4", the piece was still entirely choreographed, though missteps in movement may not be as noticeable.

"Humans are not machines, so every day in the execution of the exactly choreographed routine, there are changes," Tao said. "What that does is it tests the dancers' ability to react in those moments and deal with unexpected surprises."

Since its founding 2008, TAO Dance Theater has performed in more than 20 countries at some of the biggest dance festivals, including the Lincoln Center Festival in New York, and the Second Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition at Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts. TAO Dance was also the first Chinese company to be invited as artists-in-residence for the American Dance Festival in 2011, held annually in Durham, North Carolina.

Even after performing at such a wide variety of venues, Tao said he is still surprised at the volume of responses he gets from Eastern and Western audiences alike. The diversity in reactions encourages him to focus on more creation and using his art to expand its audience's visual appetite, he said.

"It doesn't matter if you're pursuing Buddhism or just art. It's really what you do with yourself and how you control or put that focus-that's your search for the truth, whatever that may be," he said.


 TAO Dance troupe premieres '5' at NYU

Tao Dance Theater giving a performance of "4" at New York University's Skirball Center as part of the university's "Vision + Voices: China" program. Amy He / China Daily

(China Daily USA 02/25/2014 page2)