Sutra @ Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide 3/11/2018

Sutra is a wonderful combination of both modern acrobatic dance mixed with Kung Fu, Buddhist philosophy and intricate set design. This show is exciting, full of energy and incredible skill by all the performers as well as being thought-provoking

Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui from Belgium has most recently brought a show to Adelaide as part of the Festival in 2015. For this season of the OzAsia festival, he brings us his much-celebrated show that commenced ten years ago in London and has been touring the globe ever since.

The show starts with Sidi himself sitting on a silver long box with the youngest member of the troupe a young monk. Together they are contemplating small blocks set out in front of them. These small blocks mirror the human-sized boxes on the stage that are moved around and interacted with for the rest of the show by the nineteen Shaolin monks, the boy and Sidi. This is a kinetic and noisy show with the boxes falling on the ground and being rolled over. The design of the show was by Antony Gormley who is a famed British artist. These twenty one boxes could represent coffins, beds in a dorm room, tables, a boat, a maze or together represent a pagoda or a mountain where mediation is practised.

The warrior monks jump out of the boxes, jump on them performing kung fu, hide behind them, fall with them from the top of them and are in them when they are toppled over domino style in the most dramatic part of the performance.

Sidi dances and performs with the sole boy monk and they are both incredible contortionists and acrobats. They dance and mirror each other’s movements. The impression is that they represent the foreigner and the child and have two parallel journeys and try to improve themselves and gain acceptance within the group. The foreigner initially believes he already has mastery, at least as far as philosophy is concerned, and must learn to be more humble. Conversely, the boy is lacking in self-esteem and must learn to see the value in what he does and be at peace with himself.

At one point the monks start performing in black suits as opposed to their tradition monk garb and I think the suits were to show that their path has relevance in both a contemporary setting, as well as the more isolated environment in which they train. When show designer Antony Gormley watched actual monks perform in a monastery in preparation for this show he noticed they had a wonderful freedom of spirit as well an interest in hip-hop and contemporary culture as well as the Buddhist culture.

The score by polish born composer Szymon Brzóska is performed by a small orchestra on the left of the stage and is a beautiful piece of work which echoes traditional Chinese music.

Sutra was an incredible addition to this years OzAsia Festival and I look forward to hopefully seeing another show by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui one day.

OzAsia Review by Rick De Pizzol

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