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TAO Dance Theater

November 23, 2012

Weight x 3 (excerpt) and 2

Reviewed November 22, 2012

NAC Studio, Ottawa

(Repeat performances November 23 and 24, 8 p.m.)

Tao Ye’s vision for this new contemporary company out of China is the exploration of the body as a creative force. “In our pursuit of the corporeal,” he says of his small troupe, “our spirit becomes free.”

Tao Ye’s 2, Photograph by Andrea Mohin

The company’s newer work, 2, is a fascinating, aesthetic presentation of two dancers, clad in the same flowing costumes by Li Min, so as to seem androgynous. The work, which performed for the first time at the Singapore Arts Festival last year, has a surprising breathtaking opening. The audience is sent out of the auditorium before the piece begins and comes back in to see the two performers spread-eagled face down in their silvery garb on a pure white floor. There is no sound, only the flopping of their limbs on the stage as they contort their bodies sporadically and spasmodically. There is, seemingly, no beginning and no end, and sparse accompaniment, if any.

I couldn’t help thinking of how, on a sleepless night, I toss and turn in my bed in an effort to find a comfortable position in the same way these dancers flip and flop. First they’re scrunching up their torsos, slapping out an arm or raising a tensed leg or curling up in a fetal position. It’s more silent theatre than it is dance, contemplative, reactive, abstract to the extreme.

Tao Ye’s brave challenge to conventional dance in China is curious and irresistible in its simplicity, minimalism and futuristic insight.

In the first part of the program, he presents Weight x 3, which begins with a male and female dancer dressed identically in neutral colored long wrapped robes (designed by Tao Ye) and, for the most part, connected at the hands. It’s an exercise in precision that emanates a childlike innocence. The performers move in exacting replicated movements of feet, heads and undulations of the body to an increasingly urgent accompaniment, created by Steve Reich, that sounds mechanical and clock-like. There’s a sense of the passage of time. The dancers seem to be the clock themselves.

This first part is followed by lone modern dancer Duan Ni manoeuvering a long pole like a baton. On the dim stage, the play of light, designed by Tao Ye and Wang Peng, illuminates her bare arms, shoulders, back, head and feet and the ever-whirling stick, so that they form a beautiful constantly shifting pattern in the air. Reich’s discordant drumming accompaniment is hypnotic and lulling.

Saturday’s performance will be preceded by a talk by Alison Friedman, founding director of the culturally diplomatic Ping Pong Productions of Beijing. Friedman will discuss modern dance in China and encumbrances to its development.

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