Sutra 2013
29 March - 18 May 2013

Dance Magazine, 3.4.13

Returning to Sadler’s Wells five years after its premiere there, Sutra introduces us to a community of Shaolin monks, who traditionally express their Buddhist beliefs through a combination of Kung-Fu and Tai Chi. Now described as warrior monks, they have fused breathing exercises and calisthenics for both military and spiritual purposes.

Cherkaoui has transformed their codified movement into choreography that evokes many aspects of human experience, from friendship to travel to death. The dramatic action takes place in, on, and under wooden boxes shaped like coffins, designed by the British sculptor Antony Gormley. As the 17 monks rearrange these simple structures, the boxes become their homes—carried on their backs as if they were snails—or tiers of beds, stacked like bunks in a ship’s hold, or the unfolding petals of a flower, or springboards for aerial tumbling that defies gravity.

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Behind the Arras, 7.5.13

This production is a real fusion of different traditions and art forms. Bringing together the choreographic skills of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the martial arts expertise of the Shaolin Monks, the visual art of Antony Gormley and live music created by Szymon Brzoska, it is a thorough mixing pot.

And out of this mixing bowl is born a production full of beauty and lyricism but also a show which is a little frustrating.

At its best we are thrilled by the amazing athletic feats of the monks as they leap and whirl in a dexterous performance of martial arts which are forceful but also balletic in their grace. Some of the moves (I am giving nothing away here) evoke awed responses from an audience who cannot quite believe how calmly and easily these guys can take the shocks.

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Scott Bird Online, 7.5.13

Sutra, taken literally is a rope or thread that holds things together. Also a term given to the collection of original thoughts, you find that Sutra stirs your thoughts as you discover and piece together threads within the movement’s narrative.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the cast you were watching were fully trained, professional contemporary dancers but in fact, Sutra is performed by warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple. Their movement is based on a belief in the supernatural power of Chan Buddhism and is a major form of expression.

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Hippodrome Heather, 7.5.13

Since this was my first experience of seeing a contemporary dance production, I was unsure of how I would respond to it, and as such, I’m quite surprised that I came away with some strong impressions and interpretations, which I’ll put down to the strength of the performance rather than any great insight on my own part.

If there’s one thing that really stuck out to me about Sutra that was completely unexpected, it was its playful, childlike aspect. This quality, I felt, not only helped elucidate what seemed to me to be the production’s big themes (e.g. teaching and learning, the value of simplicity, and a notion that the potential of mind and body goes beyond their physical reality), but also allowed for a greater accessibility: even when left bemused and bewildered by the cryptic and symbolic nature of the action, no one in the audience could fail to be captivated by the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the child performer – the “little monk”.

Read the full review, Graham Watts 5.4.2013

This was the sixth time I’ve seen Sutra and it remains as fresh as ever. In fact some elements appeared to be entirely new, although kept within a familiar and now much-loved structure. Over 160,000 people (100 for every year of the Temple’s existence) have now seen Sadler’s Wells’ most successful production, here embarking on a nationwide tour to celebrate its fifth anniversary. The title, Sutra, means a thread that holds things together and it has become both a metaphor for any set of rules and a term with spiritual significance since it was used to describe the sermons of Buddha.

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Guise Magazine, Claire Thomas 4.4.2013

Set in a stark and empty stage, the action of this dance theatre experience revolves around Antony Gormley’s coffin-like wooden boxes that form the basis of the piece’s clever, changing set. These giant jenga-like pieces are pulled apart, slotted together, pushed over, jumped on & slid around in a sequence of stunning formations. At some points they form a lotus flower, a wall, a boat & at a particularly memorable moment they collapse in a diagonal line, crashing onto each other like dominoes.

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Bachtrack, Katja Vaghi 5.4.2013

The monks’ soft yet strong movements are reflected in Sutra’s basic and clean aesthetic: a white empty space, wood blocks and the pale colours of the costumes, which accentuate the introspective, poetic dimension of their action. The piece dynamics go from stillness to action-laden sequences, accompanied by Szymon Brzoska’s beautiful, melodic composition. But the Shaolins’ movements follow another dynamic that cannot be captured by Western music. They override it, creating and interesting combination. As a Shaolin monk counting the beads while reciting his mantras, these are the contrasts in energy that Cherkaoui, Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells since 2008, channels – successfully depicting stillness in action and action in stillness.

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Cloud Dance Festival, Anna Pearce, 5.4.2013

The opening of the work sets up a relationship between Ali Thabet and the youngest of the monks, seemingly pondering deeply over a miniature version of the structure of boxes. The nature of their connection isn’t completely clear, but there is a sense of Thabet playing ‘puppet master’ with the small boxes, dicatating what happens on a larger scale onstage, which continues throughout the work.

With his incredible skill and undeniable cute-factor, the young boy monk has the audience captivated from the start, and is responsible for many of the gently comedic moments sprinkled within ‘Sutra’.

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Art Wednesday, Hannah Waldram, 5.4.2013

For those of you unfamiliar with the serenity of Shaolin Monks from China – seeing 16 of them sitting atop smooth wooden blocks, legs crossed in a sign of peace and strength, is entirely arresting. Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui clearly saw something in the daily regime of the Buddhist warrior monks, which would captivate audiences worldwide when he decided to collaborate with them for an hour-long piece for the stage – and this is just one memorable image of many from the piece.

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Londonist, Tamara Vos, 4 April 2013

Before you go further, kind reader be warned: the following review is filled with exclamations and clichéd phrases that we’d have previously been ashamed to use, but Sutra demands it.

This piece is extraordinary.

There’s nothing to explain and there’s no need for background: it’s 20 Shaolin monks with 20 man-sized boxes on an empty stage. They toy with space, with shape, with unison and symmetry, and the visual impact of all this is truly astounding.

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