Famed dance troupe debuts creative work
TAO Dance Theater's latest creation debuted at SAIC Shanghai Culture Square last week. It was the first time choreographer Tao Ye introduced a semi-improvisational work since the dance company was established in 2008.
The Beijing-based TAO Dance Theater is known for its unique, highly creative, body movement techniques, invented by the theater's founders, Tao Ye and Duan Ni, a professional dance couple. "Control" and "rational" are key words they use to describe their creations.
Their latest work, entitled "11," is part of their "Numerical Series," each of whose dances is named after the number of performers featured in the piece.
"I designated specific movements for dancers' lower body," Tao explained. "But performers have great freedom to improvise in the upper body. As a result, there's a kind of clash between sense and sensibility – half emotional, half rational."
The performance consists of 11 segments, involving solo, duo, trio and group dance. Performers often stand in one or two rows to create the shape of the numeral "11" on stage. Avant-garde music composed by Tao's musician friend, Xiao He, is a key element.
"There is no body contact among dancers throughout the performance," said Tao. "But they do stand close to each other, so there's a risk of bumping into others, something dancers must pay special attention to."
Tao said he hopes the performance will inspire viewers to ponder the contradiction between the rational and irrational; between the individual and the group; between restriction and freedom.
Huang Li is one of the four veteran dancers in "11," who also takes charge of the troupe's daily training.
"It's a demanding performance," she said. "Dancers have to be rational during rehearsals and concentrate on footsteps. After memorizing footwork, we shift our focus to the upper body to create movements, and then integrate."
According to Tao, the improvisational part encourages dancers to think, explore, raise questions and respond with their body. He says dance is a tunnel of self-expression while the exploration of body movement enables one to communicate with the world.
TAO Dance Theater has been making annual visits to SAIC Shanghai Culture Square since 2016. After the Shanghai performance, the troupe is heading to Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, for the fourth and final stop of their national tour. The theater initially planned to perform in more than 20 countries before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to make changes.
"Domestic theaters provide us with the kind of warmth that we don't usually get when performing overseas," said Tao. "Some audiences come to see us every year and give feedback. They are our old friends. We welcome them."