Sutra Festival Theatre

How best to describe Sutra? It is not a conventional dance piece nor is it simply a demonstration of impressive martial arts skills but a fusion of the two which creates a breathtaking and fascinating experience. The monks of the Shaolin temple are the oldest exponents of Kung Fu and they are basically performing the moves which they perform every day as part of their religious ritual. We are privileged to witness this spectacle and share in their devotions.

Sutra was co-produced and first performed at Sadlers Wells in London in 2008 and since then has been on tour around the world to universal acclaim. Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoul, artist Antony Gormley and composer Szymon Brzoska developed the work in collaboration with the abbot and monks of the temple.

Sutra means thread and the loose story being told in the work is a series of threads representing the journey of a westerner and a young monk who guides and protects him in his quest to discover and enter the monks’ world and culture. The set is minimal and uses a number of coffin size wooden boxes which are used by the monks in all sorts of ways – as hiding places, platforms from which they leap and perform their incredible moves, transformed into beds, boats, buildings, or even the petals of a lotus flower.

The musicians sit behind a white gauze curtain at the back of the stage and the musical style will be familiar to fans of films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with its at times poignant use of percussion and strings. The monks do not perform to the music, rather the music complements the monks’ movements and adds colour and tone.

There was an after show discussion and question and answer session which was very illuminating. Assistant Choreographer and principal dancer Ali Chabet, composer Szymon Brzoska and one of the monks – with the aid of a translator – gave us the background of their journey and motivation in creating the work. When asked what they had individually gained from their participation, all agreed it had helped them explore and understand each others’ culture which exactly mirrors the work itself.

The audience was very mixed, all ages and diverse backgrounds, and the thunderous applause at the end of the show was testament to their appreciation of what they had experienced. The run ends tonight (Saturday 18th May) and there are a few tickets left, it is well worth a visit.

Irene Brownlee