Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 2 November 2018
A world-renowned choreographer and monks from the Shaolin Temple come together to bring their Adelaide audience a jaw-dropping display of physical feats that will truly astonish all.
Award winning choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, returns to Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his famous masterpiece, Sutra. Cherkaoui himself joins a troupe of 19 impressively athletic monks from the Shaolin Temple on stage in an acrobatic performance like nothing you’ve ever seen.
The stand-out qualities of Sutra are the precise acrobatic actions that exist within the world of kung fu, as well as the show’s spiritual side which sees Buddhist philosophy finding a place within the choreography. Elements of contemporary dance also play a role within the creatively choreographed numbers, combining with the acrobatic kung fu actions to create mesmerising visuals that the audience just can’t turn away from.
Gravity-defying movements (such as leaping off towering boxes) and bold actions cause the audience to audibly gasp as the monks and Cherkaoui parade with confidence around the stage, occasionally interacting with each other. Every move they make is precise and has a purpose as there is no room for error on this stage with even one mistake most likely resulting in chaos, destruction and injuries.
The simple, yet effective set, designed by sculptor Antony Gormley, consists merely of 17 versatile wooden boxes all roughly the size of a roomy, rectangular coffin. These boxes are manipulated and abused around the stage and placed into a variety of shapes and patterns with ease by the athletic monks. The beauty that can be created out of such simple and basic props through their choreographed sculpting is fascinating, with forms taking shape that become the monk’s environment.
With no dialogue and a simple set, the predominant feature of Sutra is (of course) the outstanding athleticism of the monks and Cherkaoui, but this is exceedingly enhanced by the specially commissioned score by Polish composer, Szymon Brzóska. The show’s music sweeps between haunting violin solos and melancholic piano melodies leading into up-beat and frenetic audio which matches the coordinated commotion happening on stage.
Though it is hard to find fault within such an absorbing show, there are some moments where it feels like strict synchronisation would positively add to the visual spectacles of the pattern formations created by the monks. Complete synchronisation, though, may not be a goal within the performance.
Although there are minor elements of the show that could be perfected (issues with synchronisation), Sutra is none-the-less a masterpiece of dance with its mixture of kung fu, contemporary dance and spiritual elements, and is not to be missed this OzAsia season.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd