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The Out of Asia season at Sadler’s Wells concluded on Tuesday and Wednesday with an unexpectedly rigorous but rewarding double bill by this young Chinese company, which I caught in its sole date outside London. It is easy to see why the choreographer and co-founder Tao Ye has captured attention as a radical new presence on the country’s burgeoning contemporary dance scene.
The curtain-raiser — two sections of a triptych called Weight x3, both performed to the music of Steve Reich — was intriguing enough to make me wish I could’ve seen the third part. Tao, tall and shaven-headed, was partnered by the petite, fringe-haired Wang Hao. The impassive-faced pair held hands through the long, bell-like sleeves of identical, pale grey robes. The dance itself was simple but intricate. They stepped about the bare stage, occasionally tipping to one side or punctuating their shifting patterns with a swift swirl or a kick up to the side. Although the potential complexities of the choreography were never fully realised, the duet was useful as a first clue to the formal interests that drive Tao’s art.
In the second part Duan Ni, lit from above, twirled a stick over her shaven head and around her black-clad body until the object blurred like a propeller or a hummingbird’s shimmering wings. The effect was hypnotic and her stamina admirable.
After the interval she and Tao returned in a piece lasting nearly 50 minutes. That might seem a big ask for an audience but 2, as this austere duet is called, was peculiarly gratifying. The dancers, both in muddy-looking green trouser-skirts, continually folded and unfolded their strong, remarkably adroit bodies in an unvaryingly soft light. Laying flat and still on backs or stomachs, lower limbs splayed out like frog’s legs, one might suddenly raise an alert head or jut his or her rump into the air. The pace quickened with spiralling tumbles or head stands but this was no display of gymnastic stunts. 2 never lost its purpose, integrity or metaphorical weight as a stringent study in movement or, if you like, a depiction of the propulsive struggle of just being alive.