Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, UK; June 6, 2014

Maggie Foyer

TAO Dance Theater in '4'.  Photo © Fan Xi

TAO Dance Theater in ‘4’.
Photo © Fan Xi

It’s an auspicious time for Chinese contemporary dance. The community cohesion, instilled through centuries of Confusion attention to order and more recently of Communist conformity, is conspicuous but so too is the emergence of self-expression. The result is highly disciplined bodies that provide the material to interpret truly individual ideas. Chinese choreographers, such as director, Tao Ye, fuse a profound depth of thinking onto very physical theatrical expression and the resulting dance is both original and enthralling.

The concept of perpetual motion has fascinated scientist through the ages. In “4” a quartet of dancers who work in perfect block formation, seem to have this theory nailed. The dynamics of the movement seem to generate their own energy and the pulse remains infectious but the most intriguing aspect is that it remains intriguing. The style may not deviate; the easy swing of rippling bodies and the almost jaunty air, but the craft of the choreographer is such that tiny shifts are happening all the time and each repetition is actually a new variant.

The irresistible rhythm and catchy text created by Xiao He, in Chinese indie-folk-rock genre, add an unconventional sort of warmth. Thus the anonymity of the uniform costumes, asymmetric grey tunics over baggy trousers, beanies and blacked-out faces are offbeat rather than intimidating.

TAO Dance Theater in '5'.  Photo © Fan Xi

TAO Dance Theater in ‘5’.
Photo © Fan Xi

In “5”, the quintet, clothed in mottled grey, meld into one corporate body and circle the stage in continuous motion like a stream of molten lava that constantly throws up new forms. There is something about the intimate way the dancers handle each other’s bodies that is reminiscent of the innocent tumbling of new born puppies but the mood is austere and sombre. The mesmeric score offers few pointers to guide the dancers but even so they synchronise the movements with telepathic exactness.

The dancers’ instinctive grace and fluid movement seems to deny any technical training but in reality both works are fine tuned to the nanosecond. The extreme contrast of hard graft expressed so naturally makes a performance that stays to haunt you.