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Tao Ye doesn’t think in terms of Eastern or Western where his art is concerned. This Chinese choreographer, who formed his company in Beijing in 2008, avoids such categorical boxes; his dances, he believes, should stand on their own, and they do, with a quiet, dazzling resolve.
TAO Dance Theater, which appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2012, is back in New York at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts as part of the second annual Visions + Voices Global Performance Series. (This year the focus is on China.) On Thursday, Mr. Tao reprised “4,” in which four dancers move as a pack, never touching, and gave the United States premiere of “5.” Both feature scores by Xiao He, a Chinese indie-folk-rock composer, incorporating at various times voice, piano, electric guitar and environmental sounds.
In “5,” Mr. Tao explores touch. Five dancers — Mr. Tao, Lei Yan, Wang Mingchao, Fu Liwei and the extraordinary Duan Ni — maintain physical contact while rolling across the floor and on one another as a deliberate bundle of flesh and fabric. Shaved heads make it difficult to tell the dancers apart, and identical costumes — light-brown baggy pants and long-sleeved shirts streaked with gray — transform the cluster of bodies into constantly morphing tactile shapes.
In “4,” the dancers move with the fluidity of water; in “5,” it’s as if they were formed and re-formed by clay, where mass and gravity play equal parts in corporeal renewal. At the start, a striking image reveals the five dancers sitting on the floor with their legs open in a V; like an interlocking puzzle, they rest on one another’s backs. Suddenly, they shift, caterpillarlike, and form a twisting, squirming mound.
Even though the dancers never remain perfectly still, there are haunting moments in which they evoke images from a mass grave. But “5” is as ravishing as it is creepy. Under simple white lighting, designed by Mr. Tao and Ma Yue, the formations — including a pair of bare feet sprouting from a pile of arms and torsos — take on an eerie, sculptural glow.
In “4,” the choreography is based on widely planted feet, bent knees and loose limbs that kick and swirl; maintaining unison by a seemingly mystical internal rhythm, the dancers sweep across the stage like an undulating wave. With their heads covered and their faces painted black — there are openings for eyes, but the dancers keep their lids lowered — they’re not quite human.
When seen side by side, “4” and “5” are gripping explorations of magnetic pull, not only between dancers, but between the viewer and the dance. Mr. Tao has an ability to draw you inside his austere, meditative world; if you go willingly, you realize that the body is a sacred place. In a way, Mr. Tao has reinvented the solo within a visceral framework of repetition and time. His insistence is palpable, and, through that, we grasp the freedom in flesh.