Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Duration: 2hrs 15min incl interval
The Shaolin Warriors are back in Adelaide with their unique show demonstrating the amazing skills that they develop over many years of dedicated training. There is far more to life in the monastery than the famous Kung Fu training, and we get a glimpse of the spiritual life of the monks as well. They practice Ch'an Buddhism, the branch that then went to Japan to become Zen. The concept of the performance is that a young boy is initiated into the temple at the start of the show and, by the end, he faces his final tests to become a monk. Although not specifically announced, we also saw demonstrations of Chi Gong, a breathing technique.
Kung Fu was developed around 1,500 years ago, the movements originally based on those of animals, such as monkeys, tigers and snakes. Times have changed and those training to become part of the touring groups, such as this, are no longer pressured to engage in Ch'an training within the monastery. They are also more focussed on the elaborate and showy side of Kung Fu, rather than the older, authentic defence techniques, the 72 Shaolin Arts. The 22 members of this troupe, aged between 10 and 33, were trained specifically to become members of a touring group to spread the message of Shaolin practice. The practice of Chi Gong and the 'iron body' are newer aspects of training.
The two main sets show the entrance to the temple, and the Pagoda Forest, in front of which the performers demonstrate the remarkable skills that they have developed over years of constant and dedicated practice. There is plenty of effective lighting, which accents the colours of the robes and glints off of the weapons, but the sudden stop-start music needs work. For thos unfamiliar with Kung Fu and Shaolin training a narration, or even a screen to the side of the stage providing some sort of commentary could also have been helpful.
The performance itself, however, was what the majority of the audience came to see, and they were not disappointed. All of the favourite moves were there, from the 'iron body, demonstrations such as the performer who hold a cabbage against his stomach and shreds it with a cleaver, the man who lays down on three parallel sword blades, has a double sided bed of nails placed on him on which another man lays, while a slab of stone is placed on top of him and smashed with a sledgehammer, or the man who is supported on the points of five spears. There are plenty of high jumps and mid-air somersaults, as well as somersaults on the ground, on heads, not hands.
There are lots of synchronised movement sections, sparring and weapons work, with modified weapons for safety. There are feats such as handstands on two fingers and breaking iron bars over their own head. Precision, balance, graceful movements and controlled power are all in evidence, and so is a sense of humour. At one point they bring several dozen children onto the stage and teach them a sequence of apparently simple moves. The chaos and confusion generate plenty of laughs and show that these moves are not as easy as they look. Later they bring two men to the stage and teach them some basic sparring, showing again, with plenty of laughter, the complexity of the moves.
Then, too, there are the scenes of everyday life, the monks practising their skills, and the masters teaching new skills and correcting their students by making adjustments to their positions and moves. There is also seated and walking meditation, so we get an idea of the other side of life in the monastery. This well balanced production certainly pleased the audience, with a number of young boys in the foyer at the interval and after the show practising the moves that they had just seen. Pity the parents. In short, the performance offers excitement, energy, enthusiasm and spectacle, with a powerful spiritual undercurrent.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.