Current Issue #488

Dancing in the park

Dancing in the park

Two exceptional dance companies will give cover both ground and the sky as part of this year’s WOMADelaide: Tao Dance Theater and Gratte Ciel.

In 2014, Tao Ye brought his small dance company from China to OzAsia with two contrasting works, 6, for six dancers in black, and the world premiere of 7, for seven dancers in, of course, white. It was then rumoured that Tao’s goal was to create 100 works. It’s no longer a rumour. On the line from China, and speaking through an interpreter, he confirms that this is his ambition despite saying a couple of years ago that he was undecided. He has got up to 9 so far and has 10, 11 and 12 “in his mind”.

So he’ll eventually end up with 100 dancers on stage? Yes!

Ye began his training in ballet and classical Chinese dance at 12, in Changqing district of Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, sister state of South Australia. He became interested in modern technique when he was 19 and in 2008, when only 23, decided to become a choreographer and founded Tao Dance Theater. Since then he and his company have been garlanded with praise in more than 30 countries. The Guardian’s Mackrell called Ye a “fundamentally poetic dance-maker” and remarked on the dancer’s “exquisite stamina and control”. In The New York Times, Gia Kourlas wrote of the dancers’ “quiet, dazzling resolve”.

Making his fifth visit to Australia, and second to Adelaide, he is coming to WOMADelaide with 10 dancers, and performing 6 and 4. The scores by Xiao He, a Chinese indie-folk-rock composer, incorporate at various times voice, piano, electric guitar and environmental sounds.

In 2014, the company performed in the Dunstan Playhouse; for WOMADelaide, they will be on an open outdoor stage. In 6 the dancers are in black robes, often in a close group. Would he be changing the choreography for the new performance space? Yes, indeed — there will be considerable change, and changes in the dancers, so it will be very different. Making alterations to his works means he develops them further over the years.

His creations have a mesmeric quality. In 7, for instance, the dancers scarcely move from their positions in a long line. In 6, the emphasis will be on the spine: the dancers express their movement from the spine out through the limbs and muscles.

Does he have a particular philosophy of dance? “Yes of course,” comes the reply. He tries to use the body to express the energy of life, and also the times we live in.

Tao’s dancers are grounded. Gratte Ciel’s cast of 16 are airborne in an aerial ballet, Place des Anges (Place of Angels). Premiered in Arles, Provence, in 2007, they have delighted earthbound audiences, children and adults alike, in more than 50 towns and cities but never before in an arboreal setting.

The director, Stéphane Girard, speaking from Morocco, says everyone is excited at the prospect. “It is something very special; the angels come from the trees, from nature,” he says. “Nature is very strong in Botanic Park.”

Girard and his collaborator, Pierrot Bidon, who died in 2010, first had the idea in 1995 as something of a circus joke — an acrobat with a suitcase full of feathers, “a ton of feathers” — who climbs to a height then opens the suitcase above the crowd below. “Just a crazy idea, a big joke.” But when they began work on it in 2000 they developed the idea of the angels. At first it was “very simple”: the audience is showered with white feathers, “a blizzard” according to one review, but by the time of its premiere there were eight in the cast, and now it’s 16 circus performers and dancers, with music by Hughes de Courson and Tomás Gubitsch sung by “children of the world”.

Girard says that Place des Anges changes according to the place of performance, and that makes audiences “change their view of the environment”. Appearing in WOMADelaide is particularly interesting, since everywhere else it has been among buildings.

“Every place is very different,” he says, and each “has a different energy …. The audience loses its usual points of reference. That’s where we change [people’s] minds. Adelaide will have a very sweet show.”

It is both “poetic motion and poetic emotion”.

From the ground to the sky, WOMADelaide has it all.

Botanic Park
Friday, March 9 to
Monday, March 12

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