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Sydney Opera House presents a Saddler’s Wells production, SUTRA in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.

“Sutra sees one of Europe’s most exciting dancer-choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui unite with Turner prize-winner Antony Gormley, alongside 17 Buddhist monks from the original Shaolin Temple in China, in the first true collaboration between Western artists and the Shaolin Temple.”

In a converted extended stage arrangement, masked behind ugly black curtain cloths in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House ( the arrangement does feel theatrically clumsy and not usefully aesthetic in preparing an audience for the event), a three sided grey cyclorama cloth surrounds the floor space, whilst downstage on a silver/grey box the choreographer/dancer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and a young child monk play and arrange a collection of miniature box shapes (sculptures). A live orchestra of five musicians are revealed, (Music: Szymon Brzoska) with lighting, as they begin playing, through the gauze of the back cyclorama, and 16 monks entered the space carrying, individually, plywood boxes, resembling coffins. During the event, these boxes are inert partners to and for the monks and are sculpturally choreographed in many different modes ( Visual Creation and Design: Antony Gormley).

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, of Belgian/Moroccan inheritance, was last seen here in Sydney with Akram Khan in ZERO DEGREES (also performed at the Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre). Mr Cherkaoui’s physical skill defies one’s eyes and leaves one in a state of wonder. This invention with Monks from the Shaolin Temple, situated near Denfeng City in the Henan province of China, is mostly a demonstration of the physical prowess of a Martial Art kind. It is beautifully organised with the monks, firstly in grey Buddhist monk’s uniforms and later in contemporary slacks and jacket uniform, hurtling through, what appears to be, exercise patterns and demonstrations of acrobatic majesties that have become familiar to us, particularly from the Chinese Film culture of recent years. Seeing it live is a wonderment.

Antony Gormley, a Turner Prize winning sculptor, recently in Sydney, giving a lecture at the New South Wales Art Gallery, and presenting a work at the Anna Swartz Gallery at Carriageworks, has also had several of his works presented in recent Biennial.( He also has a work that was commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the Perth Festival, extant in the desert around Menzies –Kalgoorlie, Lake Ballard called INSIDE AUSTRALIA). Mr Gormley has worked with Mr Cherkaoui before. Aesthetically, to temper the boldness of the skill presented by the monks, Gormley and Cherkaoui have organised the choreography around the possibilities of the shapes and levels that can be achieved by using the beautifully crafted boxes. The number, and the aesthetics of the arrangements are arresting. Having been in New York in April (2010), I was able to see the EVENT HORIZON, project of Mr Gormley, where large human figures/figurines were placed around the environment of that city, some on the ground and many on sky scrapper shelves and architectural ends of earlier era buildings. The images of these monks in SUTRA, standing on the boxes end-up, later lying entombed-like in their contemporary clothing, were peculiarly provocative and pleasing and resonated with these other works for me.

The affect of the evening was enthralling but did not have the ’wow’ factor, of this is a “you must not miss.”

Most of it, for me, had to do with the make shift feel of the Concert Hall presentation arrangements and certainly lessened the possible theatrical impact of the experience. The aesthetics of audience preparation, surely, ought to be part of the choosing of the programs that are curated and the ‘right’ spaces to present them in? At $84 a ticket more could have been expected from the producing management, I reckon. The magic of SUTRA had to work hard to win the pleasure of the audience after such an unpleasant welcoming by the venue arrangements.

1 replies to “Sutra”

  1. Interesting — I love this piece, having seen it on the web — and had the good fortune to catch it at QPAC before it got to the SOH. I remember the Concert Hall set up for Shen Wei Dance Production for some Sydney festival which was very effective. It's a shame that it didn't work so well this time. My experience in Brisbane was that the audience had a very emotional experience of the harmony and beauty of this show —-

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