Cutting-edge Chinese choreography

The Tao Dance Theater of Beijing will perform at the Dance Tel Aviv festival.

May 23, 2013 11:29
Tao Dance Theater of Beijing

Tao Dance Theater of Beijing . (photo credit: Courtesy)

Next week Israeli audiences will have a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of cutting-edge contemporary dance from China. The offering comes courtesy of the Tao Dance Theater of Beijing, which will perform Weight x 3 and 2 at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv on Sunday and Monday as part of this year’s Dance Tel Aviv festival.

Much of the logistics involved in putting the company’s artistic offerings out there are overseen by Alison Friedman, founding director of the Beijing-based Ping Pong Productions, who hails from a very different part of the world.

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“My story intertwines very closely with that of the Tao Dance Theater, but it’s a little different,” says Friedman. “I’m a good white Jewish girl from Washington, DC, and I have been in China for over 12 years now. I studied Chinese in the States, and I have a passion for dance. I received a Fulbright grant to come to China and have been here ever since.” Friedman has supported the Tao trajectory almost since the day the company was founded.

“I have been on board since 2008, soon after [artistic director and choreographer] Tao Ye started the company,” explains Friedman.

“He and I knew each other from our time at the Beijing Modern Dance Company. We had a very close relationship there, and we really saw eye to eye.”

So when Tao decided to go out on his own, Friedman was a natural choice as backroom support.a There will not be anything in the way of traditional Chinese work on the Suzanne Dellal Centre stage on Sunday and Monday.

“The theater is a unique reflection of Ye’s voice,” says Friedman. “He has never claimed to have influences of traditional Chinese dance because he was not really trained in it. He did have a certain element of traditional Chinese dance in his training because everyone has that in this country, but he didn’t go through university.”

Then again, you won’t find too many extra-cultural elements in Tao’s output, either.

“He has never studied abroad, so there are no Western influences in what he does,” says Friedman.

“His work is very much his own, his own voice and movement, and a result of his own research.”

But, surely, non-traditional artistic ethos notwithstanding, Tao is Chinese, so presumably some of that comes through in his onstage work. Friedman says Tao just gets on with the job at hand and leaves the scrutinizing to others.

“I think the critics and audiences might look at all of that, but when an artist creates, he doesn’t say ‘I am going to do this or that’ or ‘I am going to make something Chinese or Jewish today.’ They look at a form or a means of expression, and Tao’s form is very much his own. It is influenced by his training in classical Chinese dance and folk dance, but it is not conscious or deliberate,” she says.

Friedman believes the Suzanne Dellal Centre audiences will gain a fresh perspective on the art form. “What is interesting about Tao is that his artistic vision, and the clarity of that vision, is unique in China.” she says.“I think a lot of artists here are still searching for identity and are very distracted by money or are very much still on the surface of what it means to be working in a contemporary idiom in a country with so many thousands of years of history. What I really respect and admire about Tao is that he knows what he is looking to do, and he just does that. He is interested in physical research and abstract form and content, and he is interested in it because it is him. It’s not like he saw it in a movie somewhere.”

That, says Friedman, is evident in the show Tao is bringing here.

“He has a work [ Weight x 3 ] with music by Steve Reich, and a lot of people say, ‘Oh, was that influenced by [Belgian-born choreographer] Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker?” De Keersmaeker’s rich oeuvre includes a work entitled Steve Reich Evening based on the American composer’s music.

“Ye had never heard of that choreographer when he made this work in 2008 and 2009, and he didn’t even know who the choreographer was until he started touring abroad in 2010. People in Europe, for instance, would ask Tao if he is influenced by so and so, and Tao would say ‘Who?’ He is a true artist,” she asserts.

Since Tao and his company hit the international road, they have appeared at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including the Sadler’s Wells Theater in London and at the American Dance Festival in North Carolina.

Ultimately, says Friedman, the audiences in Tel Aviv should embrace Tao’s work with open eyes.

“Tao normally starts from a specific physical element or quality, and then starts to develop and work from there. He doesn’t like to tell his audience what to expect because he believes that limits the expectations. He doesn’t want the audience to wear goggles that limit them.

Expectations can frame how the audience sees a piece, and Tao would prefer that the members of the audience go into the show totally open and ready for anything. That way, their imagination will be freer to experience the work,” she says.

The two productions Tao is bringing here will provide the audience with a broad viewing and sensory experience.

“ 2 is very different from Weight x 3 ,” says Friedman. “I have seen the show 20 times or more, and when I watch it, I start to forget that the dancers are human. You just see the relationships between these entities on the stage and how that creates the visual and sound experience. It is really spectacular.”

For tickets and more information about Weight X 3 and 2 , call (03) 510-5656 or visit

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