BWW Reviews: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2014: 6 AND 7 Takes Dance in a New Direction

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 19th September 2014

The mysteriously titled 6 and 7 are two works by the founder and Creative Director of TAO Dance Theatre, Tao Ye, but his minimalist works are simply titled after the number of dancers in each work and so not so mysterious after all. These two works, of which 7 is a world premiere, have no narrative, and the choreography is unlike any other that I have seen.

The first piece begins in total darkness, then the light starts to pulsate, initially so very dimly that only a few moving reflections can be seen. Quite some time later the pulsating light achieves a level at which it is possible to determine that these small reflections came from the faces of the dancers. The pulsing light also now comes from different points. Clad in black, the lower half of the costume a broad skirt held up slightly at the front by both hands, revealed the bare feet and ankles of the six dancers which also formed small reflecting surfaces. During this piece strongly rhythmic music written by Xiao He accompanied the movement, sounding to me, from my study of Chinese music many years ago, like the sound of the horse-head fiddle of Mongolia, which they play to accompany throat singing.

Once the light level has increased sufficiently we discover the six dancers form a line, running diagonally down the stage, their backs to the audience and their feet fixed in place. With their hands also fixed by holding onto the skirt of their costumes, the movement is primarily from the waist up, twisting, turning, bending in all directions, tilting heads and occasionally bending knees. It seemed to be about halfway through the thirty minute performance before the dancers lifted one foot and turned to face the audience. Some time later, still in a diagonal line, they finally start to walk to and fro across the stage, building to an abrupt conclusion.

The first group of dancers, Lei Yan, Wang Mingchao, Fu Liwei, Mao Xue, Li Shunjie, and Qian Tingting, are joined by Yu Jinying for the second work. In both works the incredible flexibility and strength of the dancers is pushed to the limits to create these amazingly intricate works.

The second work has choreography and music by Tao Ye, and begins with a request for total silence from the audience. Looking at this piece is a little like looking at the photographic positive created from the negative of the first piece. The stage is fully lit, and the dancers are dressed in costumes that are identical, but white. Once again, they begin in a diagonal line, moving in silence until small sounds are heard. As the sound slowly increases it becomes clear that it is the voices of the dancers, although seasoned theatregoers would have noticed numerous suspended microphones beforehand. Although there are many similarities between the two pieces, there are also many differences.

Reactions to these works were mixed, but that is only to be expected when faced with something so far from the norm. Having no story to tell, either, it can be confusing to anybody looking for that familiarity. They are experiential pieces rather than descriptive works. They are mesmerising, meditative works that engaged on a different level to the dance works with which we are accustomed. Tao Ye invites and challenges the audience to connect with his work in a new way, becoming absorbed in and part of the performance. This is a bold approach to working that takes risks in opening new frontiers in dance.

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From This Author Barry Lenny