Tao Ye: Decoding the body in dance


Tao Ye, 33, struggles with his body every day.

As a choreographer and founder of Tao Dance Theater, one of the most unorthodox contemporary dance companies in China, he “tortures” his dancers and audiences with an unprecedented minimalist type of performance.

Donning plain, baggy clothes, Tao maintains a buzz cut, as do most of his dancers. What he wants to deliver on stage is that everything but the movement is redundant.

Eliminating almost all the traditional theater elements, such as costumes and backdrops, Tao’s works purely concentrates on body movements. He even tried removing all sound effects and simply letting the audience hear the breath of the dancers on the stage.

“I do pure dance, which refers to only the movement itself. But how to move, why do we choose to move like this and how to organize the movements is a process of critical thinking. You have to show the power of life on the stage,” said Tao.

All his works are named with numbers, representing the number of dancers in each work. “By doing that, we hope the audience will not over interpret the dances but pay attention to the movement of our bodies,” said Tao. “The names are meaningless.”

Tao said he is exploring the freedom within limitation. In his work “5,” five dancers lie on the ground for the whole 30 minutes. In “6” and “7,” the dancers stand in a straight line and can only twist their spines and move in unison.

“My works aim to show that you can have more freedom when you are limited. It’s like decoding your body. If you are not allowed to move your hands, you may find your shoulders are more flexible; when you restrict your legs, your torso may be freed. Through limitation, you can get more focused and explore the potential of certain parts of the body,” he explained.

Tao quickly gained a global reputation for his pioneering concepts. In 2011, three years after he established the Tao Dance Theater, his team was invited to perform at the American Dance Festival, a leading global annual celebration of dance, music and art.

Tao Dance Theater was also invited to the Lincoln Center Festival and Edinburgh International Festival. In 2012, Tao was named one of the six “New Wave Associates” choreographers by acclaimed dance performance center Sadler’s Wells.

Now Tao’s company spends 90 percent of their time touring around the world. Over the past decade, they have undertaken hundreds of performances in over 40 countries and regions.

“We are popular overseas partly because of our unique style,” Tao said. “Traditional western contemporary dances are extroverted. They use a lot of jumps and emphasize facial expressions and multimedia, but my dance breaks them all.”

Back home, his works are also labeled vanguard.

“Chinese modern dance is also inspired by the West,” said Tao. “Dancers are required to have ‘3 longs and 1 small’ — long arms, long legs, long neck and a small face. But the western definition of beauty makes them all the same, and I want to present the oriental beauty of dancing — that our bodies are more round rather than slender, and our expressions are introverted.”

With all that glory from around the world, being recognized at home is now what Tao wants most. “No matter how successful we are overseas, we still feel like passers-by. We’re rooted in China,” he said.

“Though only 10 percent of our performances are now for the domestic market, we can see the progress. We have been participating in the China Shanghai International Arts Festival for the past five years. Every year we can see familiar faces, it is a good sign,” he said. Enditem

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