Dance review: TAO Dance Theater's transcendent 5 goes one up on 4

Titling his pieces with numbers rather than words, Chinese choreographer Tao Ye clearly tends towards the abstract, the minimal and the athletically physical. The inhabitors of his work are highly adept, disciplined bodies which are expressive despite their stoic faces.

The stark restriction of four dancers in a diamond formation who are in unison throughout the piece, is simple, but disconcertingly so. 4, the first piece on TAO Dance Theater's double bill at the Esplanade's da:ns festival, wears thin. Tao's resolve is admirable, but his deliberately placed limitations causes 4 to stagnate and lose steam through its 30 minutes.

Xiao He's score is all punctuated sounds and bubbling chats which drive the piece, and the dancers flock like black birds to its oscillating polyrhythms. Elbows are bent but not angular, knees give easily in the dancers' deep stances and the occasional flicker of a foot or wrist lends the piece a rebellious edge. Sequences of movements are repeated in various permutations, and 4 eventually descends into a hypnotic lull after its exhilarating start.

5, however, Tao's next installment in his numbered series of choreography, possesses a simplicity that is profound and in turn, a simple profundity. Ma Yue and Tao's lighting creates a macabre atmosphere, in which five dancers begin sitting on top of each other. Then they shift with the striking sequentiality of a caterpillar moving the various segments of its body.

Tracing the parameter of the stage, the cluster of grey-clad dancers call to mind an amorphous anemone as they seamlessly roll over and rest on each other's backs, never losing contact. A pair of bare feet ascend out of the human pile, arching over backs and melting into the floor. Spines curve and heads dive as the dancers knot their limbs and nestle into the organic interlace.

5 pulsates with ominous undertones, evoking stunning images of death, immobility, weakness and rebirth. The work's glacial pace requires incredible physical strength and control, and causes floating limbs to appear weightless. Tao uses bodies as playgrounds in this riveting exploration of touch, creating a piece of haunting beauty.

Throughout the evening, the dancers are assigned an anonymity, performing with masked faces, uniform costumes and all sporting shaved heads. In 4, they are propelled by an invisible current and internal rhythm, making them seem not quite human. 5 shares many similarities, but it transcends the physical through the vulnerability inherent in moving bodies.

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Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio

When: Wednesday, Oct 15, 8pm

Tickets: $30 from Sistic (tel: 648-5555,