Acclaimed throughout China and internationally, Tao Dance Theatre presents 6 and 8. These two works, both singularly exquisite, combine to make an exacting, hypnotic exploration of the potential of the human body.
Light drifts through darkness and the performers fade in and out of the background: the glimmer of arms or backs or faces appearing at the very edge of vision. The play of lighting so subtle it feels almost an illusion to distinguish movement in the blackness of the space. So 6 begins, attuning the eyes and ears of the audience to nuanced tones of rhythm and light, initiating them into the twilight of the piece. Gradually the performers are revealed, 6 bodies dressed in androgynous tight fitting black. They move in gusts, seemingly animated by something deep and elemental – non human and yet appearing a pure expression of fantastic human potential. One is aware that their movement is a repetition, but where the repetition begins or ends or whether it is changing and evolving are hard to grasp in the shifting light. Xiao He’s composition is the groaning of the earth, a rhythmic sawing, a cry of pain clawing and tumbling together. The bodies melt into the sound then pull against it, creating a tension between the chaotic soundscape and the precision of the movement. It resonates through all the senses, almost dizzying in its intensity. And imperceptibly, the music shifts to a harsher rhythm and the piece becomes sharper, more metallic. Bodies that rippled with spines moving like seaweed tossed in a swell become machines as the piece explores this new layer of potential in the human form. Returning to the beginning, the performers fade back into the darkness, their sliding figures creating an air of reverence and grace.
8 distorts audience perspective with an austere playfulness. The space has a sparseness, a scale that contrasts in its concrete heft with the elusiveness of 6, creating an impression of isolation – abandonment. The 8 bodies are positioned with thighs and torsos exaggerated – setting up an exploration of humanness that strays from a focus on face or mind. Their movement is disquieting – approximating the shapes of different body parts and of the body reversed, exploring the specificity of movement and pattern expressible by the human form. The movement of energy or current through the performers draws attention to the way movement affects the whole of the body – each motion is expressed through each vertebrae of the spine, undulating from neck through to feet. Like watching a slinky in motion, the experience of watching 8 is attended with an awe at the beauty of kinetic response. This flow within the body, articulated in synchronisation by the performers, speaks to a unity of the human form which creates an interesting tension within an otherwise austere piece. The music in 8 complements this tension, rushing from stillness to frenetic clutter, encouraging the bodies to change form and meaning before the audience, even as their movement remains the same. As the performers move across the floor in the space, the audience is forced to re-examine the body again and again, finding in it both the grotesque and the exquisite.
In 6 and 8, movement, design and sound so powerfully collide in a precise and elegant investigation of the human form in motion. Dancers Fu Liwei, Mao Xue, Li Shunjie, Yu Jinying, Huang li, Ming Da, Hu Jing, Yan Yulin move with a rigour and purpose that evokes a trance-like state in the audience, as excruciatingly beautiful as it is disconcerting.