A theatre review by Nicholas Newman
Last night’s performance (23 March) of Sutra at Oxford’s New Theatre could be described as dancing with dominoes or coffins depending on your point of view. Certainly, the mix of Western and Eastern like music helped add interest to the performance.
The dancers performing sometimes in monks habits or business suits at the New Theatre were monks from China’s Shaolin Temple. It was simply amazing how they made use of coffins -like boxes in a variety of configurations including dancing in and on top of bookcases, scampering through ramparts, mazes, flowers and a temple quadrangle. In addition, we would occasionally see the dancers as if as an afterthought; make the typical Kung Fu moves you would expect from a Chinese dance troop.
Sutra, which is in its 10th year, was created by the production team at Sadler’s Wells London. It is one of Sadler’s Wells’ longest running and most exhilarating productions. It was put together by leaders in dance and art. These included superb Belgium choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, modernist sculptor Antony Gormley and the monks of the Shaolin Temple. As for the music it was arranged and composed by Polish composer Szymon Brzóska’s. Szymon Brzóska, has also collaborated with Cherkaoui on Dunas (2009), Orbo Novo (2009) performed by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Labyrinth (2011) – his first full-length ballet score commissioned by Dutch National Ballet.
As for the monks performing in Sutra are from the original Shaolin Temple, situated near Dengfeng City in the Henan Province of China and established in 495AD by monks originating from India. In 1983, the State Council defined the Shaolin Temple as the key national Buddhist Temple. The monks follow a strict Buddhist doctrine, with kung fu and tai chi martial arts forming an integral part of their daily practice.
What is so surprising despite the staging being very bare in terms of visuals, the dancer brings much action and interest, to the lively performance. It is well worth seeing!