Sutra 2013
29 March - 18 May 2013

4 stars Financial Times, Clement Crisp 7.4.13

Five years after its creation at the Wells, and with many thousands of touring miles under its Shaolin belt, Sutra returned this week to its birthplace in Rosebery Avenue. The staging remains visually prodigious in the echoing and re-echoing imagery that emerges from Antony Gormley’s design of 20 coffin-like boxes which serve the cast of Buddhist monks from the Shaolin monastery in China as carapace, hidey-hole, building blocks, gymnasium.

Gormley’s visual austerities – the stage a no-coloured arena; the boxes capable of brilliant transformations, from shell or dolmen or even exiguous and claustrophobic Japanese hotel room – provide a reverberant location for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s movement dramas as he views, comments on, joins in the kung-fu world of his cohort of monks. They fight, leap, spin and roll, and manoeuvre the boxes to create communities, reminders of mortality and shelters from mortality.

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The Independent, Zoe Anderson 4.4.13

Monks from China’s Shaolin Temple stand perched on tall wooden boxes. Swaying from side to side, they rock the crates until they fall, leaping free at the last moment. Famous for their warrior skills, in Sutra the monks are both movers and pieces in a puzzle, setting up patterns or standing inside the boxes as they fall like dominoes.

Created in 2008, Sutra is one of the biggest hits produced by Sadler’s Wells. Since the London theatre became a producing house, it’s gone in for big name collaborations between international artists. Sutra, which marks its fifth anniversary with a UK tour, brought together choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, sculptor Antony Gormley and the monks of the Shaolin temple. It’s a spare, thoughtful work, building delicate patterns out of performers and the monumental set.

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5 stars Mark Monahan, The Telegraph (2009)

‘These guys weren’t really monks but professional dancers, right?’
So asked a smart friend and accidental fellow audience member after Wednesday’s blistering performance of Sutra at Sadler’s Wells – and it was a telling indication of the coup that dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui pulled off when he created the piece last year.

He has, indeed, effectively transformed these bona fide Shaolin kung-fu monks (based in the monastery in Henan province) into first-rate contemporary dancers. And, by the end of this peerlessly original 70 minutes of cross-cultural dialogue – set to aptly reflective music by Szymon Brzóska – he appears to have become one of them, too.

And that’s what this brave, thrilling, elliptical piece comes across as: Cherkaoui’s miniature odyssey into the mind of a Zen Buddhist, to find out what makes them tick and how they square their pacific beliefs with being such fearsome fighting machines.

5 stars Debra Craine, The Times (2008)

Collaborations can bring out the best in artists working together from different disciplines. But Sutra, which reunites the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the British sculptor Antony Gormley in this new Sadler’s Wells production, exceeds even our highest expectations. It forms a dazzling alliance of space and content that grants kinetic life to Gormley’s art and conceptual discipline to Cherkaoui’s philosophical choreography.

5 stars Judith Mackrell, The Guardian (2008)

The Shaolin monks put on a five-star performance just by being themselves. It’s not just the collective virtuosity of their kung fu heritage – their flying kicks, their backflips, their shadow-boxing. Practised as part of the monks’ spiritual discipline, these maniacally dangerous and beautiful moves also carry the aura of compelling ritual.

For choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his collaborators, the artist Antony Gormley and the composer Szymon Brzóska, the challenge of working with 17 monks from the Shaolin temple is to make convincing dance theatre out of an already incredible show. They have succeeded in spades. Sutra combines dance, music and design in ways that intensify the mystery of the monks’ prowess, even as it opens up new views of their agility.

For those expecting straight physical fireworks, the opening minutes may seem muted. On a stage lined with coffin-sized wooden boxes, Cherkaoui and 11-year-old Shi Yandong sit and face each other. Cherkaoui gestures delicately to the boy, as if trying to communicate in sign language. Then the adult monks rise out of the boxes; as each performs a tiny vignette of martial-arts brilliance, they seem to come from a very alien world.

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