Drawing from Asian-Pacific heritage, mythology and religion, the dance movie TAIAO unfolds in a flat dramaturgy with a female body taking central stage in a series of black-and-white vignettes. This is Xiao Ke, a cult figure of the Shanghai underground scene, a performer and a maker, former collaborator of Zhang Xian, the grandfather of Chinese independent theatre. With her shaved head and androgynous looks, she embodies the central and only character in the movie, a goddess, whose presence is both physical and immaterial.

Slow and precise movements are performed with expressionless presence – these movements remind us of martial arts, of Asian physical and spiritual practices where the Western mind-body divide doesn’t exist and where the gesture in physical space has a consequence in the spiritual world. The body on the screen is often doubled and we see the same choreography as an echo with a little delay, while graphic effects trace the movement shapes in the air, making visible the effect the movements have on this abstract space. These movements seem as not just aesthetic dance but also as functional or almost magical gestures, opening up different philosophical concepts and dimensions – of the memories of spaces, of the human body as a container of pre-natal knowledge, of dance as a strategy to access these immaterial territories; while the background images potentially refer to indigenous knowledge as a way to tackle the ecological crisis capitalism has put us in.

The space reminds us both of an empty white page of an Asian manuscript, and of an abstract aerial non-earthly heaven-like place. At the same time, the movements literally write in space, they materialize and remove invisible layers opening glimpses into familiar landscapes – mountains, forests and waters appear and disappear in serene beauty, untouched by humans. These are images of balance, harmony, contemplation and silence, and the presence of the dancer confirms the Asian “doing without doing”. She’s not expressing anything but is rather being present in her body and in this (non-)space, equal to all its elements.


The film gives us a feeling of a hidden knowledge encoded in the body – a knowledge that the body knows but that cannot be articulated in words – rather it can only be experienced and accessed through movement. If ancestral memory is indeed encoded in the repetition of movements, physical practices suggest that how we move today connects us through time and space to people and knowledge systems we have never met or experienced. In his most recent lecture-essay ‘For they do not know what they dance’? Rudi Laermans refers to both Deleuze and Guattari talking about thinking in and through percepts and affects and Agamben’s knowledge that is not known – to explain that dance is a form of thinking, an intuition, embodied knowledge, of and through the body, beyond language.

A shot from TAIAO (POIPOI) by Daniel Belton

The film makes me wonder if indigenous knowledge can really be our guiding light for the future of the planet, for a de-growth economy, for elimination of inequality and for a new consciousness of interdependence between all living forms. Isn’t this another form of escapism, especially when several Asian countries in particular have adopted some of the most extreme forms of futuristic dystopian capitalism? How can this knowledge avoid the western analytical gaze and for-profit appropriation, and how can dance become its messenger?

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite the professional and amateur audience, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active practitioners and choreographers in this field from the country and abroad.

The project “Translation on Air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund “Culture” under the program “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021.

Yasen Vasilev works in the field of contemporary dance as a creator, dramatist and critic. He graduated in Dramaturgy from the Sofia Academy (2013) and has a Master’s in Intercultural Communication from the Shanghai Theatre Academy (2016). The practical research for his Master’s thesis on the politics of dance, NUTRICULA (2015-) has been developed and presented in the form of workshops and performances on an international level. IMPOSSIBLE ACTIONS, a collective performance for 10 participants, prototyped during a residency in Taipei in 2019, was produced by Radar Sofia in 2021 and won the annual Sofia City Council dance prize. It is currently on tour for the 2021-2022 season, performed by local artists in Bulgaria, Slovenia, Norway, Malta and Belgium. Yasen is the co-founder of Radar Sofia and Drama Pact, a regular collaborator of Springback Academy and dramatist of the choreographer Ehsan Hemat (Iran/Belgium).