Contemporary Dance meets Kung Fu in Sutra
Celebrated Flemish – Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui presents a brand new dance work Sutra inspired by the skill, strength and spirituality of Buddhist Shaolin monks at the Festival de Otoño in Madrid.
By visiting the Shaolin Temple in China, and working with the Shaolin Monks over several months, Sidi Larbi follows a life-long interest of exploring the philosophy and faith behind the Shaolin tradition, its relationship with Kung-Fu, and its position within a contemporary context.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s performances are big storybooks, with clear references to reality. The space is a concrete location, demonstrable but not necessarily unambiguous. The scene is a demonstrable space, now defined as a Purgatory, or a waiting room outside a big gateway, but you do not know whether the people will be sent to heaven or hell, to a doctor or a god, or back into the world.
The characters who end up in this in-between world either archetypically represent or are divided between earthly (material) and heavenly (spiritual) poles; between their female (receptive) and male (active) sides; between and eastern (holistic) and a western (dualist) consciousness; between good and evil; they are visited and guided by their shadow side, by their animal nature.
With a compositional technique comparable to the paintings of Brueghel and Bosch, Myth creates a pictorial encyclopaedia of mainly Western myths and archetypes that are brought to life in three dimensions. The contemporary visual idiom of the Japanese manga is also a source of inspiration.
Sutra is a kind of travel log, which led Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to one of the sources of his inspiration, the Shaolin temple in China, the cradle of kung-fu, the mythic site where one comes across the ghost of Bruce Lee and one of the world’s most elaborated body of thought on the human body, the monks’ spirituality and the practice of martial arts.
Working at the Henan monastery, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui sought a dual initiation: he received gestures, rituals, rhythms and intuitions from the monks at the Shaolin temple, while offering them a contemporary choreographic framework, composed of the arrangement of bodies, other speeds, other types of musicality. This exchange, transferred to the stage of a show, resembles the learning of a new language, written between East and West, that respects the kung-fu tradition and contributes an original viewpoint to it, as though it concerned going back to the origins of an art that is also a life-style.
It is the body and its energy – mastered, released, vital, animal – that enlivens the stage of Sutra, where 17 Shaolin monks encircle Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in a choreography that shuns folkloric recreation to better reinvent a philosophy of life through its speeds and pauses, its bursts and its withdrawals, its apparent vivacity and its internal release, its animal inspiration and its spiritual surges.
The English artist Antony Gormley composed the visual and scenographic part of this universe while the Polish musician Szymon Brzóska worked on its most intimate revelation, between pulsing rhythm and melancholic discretion.
In this strange zone, where bodies use all the physical means at their disposal while preserving the soothing powers of mediation, a physical grammar composed of tradition and modernity, of matter and imagination has been written that tries to build a passage between a civilization and those who discover it: this journey of initiation that leads to the beauty of gesture.
Sutra, featuring 17 Buddhist monks and 5 musicians, can be seen from 3 – 6 December in Berlin at Spielzeit Europa of the Berliner Festspiele.