Dance review: Sutra, Edinburgh

Movement comes in the form of ancient martial arts, executed with boundless energy

Movement comes in the form of ancient martial arts, executed with boundless energy

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AS ONE visually striking moment melts into the next, you start to realise that Sutra is as much a piece of visual art as it is performance. Which, given that the set was designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, makes perfect sense.

Sutra - Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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In fact, Sutra is a meeting place for a host of cultural influences, all of which have been afforded equal priority. Choreographed by Belgian dance maker Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the overall concept has a distinctly European feel. Yet much of the show’s movement comes in the form of ancient martial arts, executed with boundless energy by 17 Buddhist monks from a Shaolin temple in China.

Yet another layer is added by five musicians, barely perceptible behind thick black gauze, who perform Polish composer Szymon Brzóska’s emotive original score.

It’s a rich mix, and despite the talent of all those involved, Sutra still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Cherkaoui, and the one Western performer on stage, Ali Thabet, spent three months living alongside the monks before creating this show. As a result, Sutra is as much a reflection of their time in the temple as it is a metaphor for individuality, collaboration, life and death.

Dressed first in martial arts robes, then sharp black suits, the monks engage with Gormley’s set with a fearlessness that never ceases to impress. Seventeen wooden boxes (and one metal one for Thabet the outsider) are pushed, pulled and dragged around the stage.

Reminiscent of coffins when the performers lie inside them, the boxes also act as a plinth, on to which the monks leap with cat-like agility. Meanwhile, alongside this artistic show of strength, a tender friendship unfolds between Thabet and the youngest monk who, aged just ten, threatens to steal the show – and our hearts .

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