(photo credit: Courtesy)
On a visit to the Orient, Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was
introduced to the monks of the Buddhist Shaolin monastery in China, cradle of
its unique branch of kung fu and other martial arts that are taught as part of
their spiritual training.
The encounter resulted in a hybrid dance that
attempted to transcend the technical brilliance of the monks through the
inquisitive mind of one of Europe’s leading talents of contemporary
This is Cherkaoui’s first and long-awaited visit to Israel, and
Sutra, with all its acrobatic allure, is not a typical work of his. His
fascination with the exoticism of Oriental aesthetic and cultural codes is
responsible for his giving too much priority to the Shaolins’ spectacular
technique. Granted, flying monks and mid-air twirls, “crazy monkey” or “lazy
scorpion” routines, along with the amazing 10-year-old novice who flips over
backwards like a busy cricket, ensure a remarkably attractive show. But
Cherkaoui aimed higher.
He avoided the urge to turn them into dancers and
avoided the urge to try to adopt their moves, hence his own unique qualities as
a participating dancer remain intact.
Sculptor Antony Gormely designed a
highly versatile stage stacked with 20 mansize boxes that could be moved, piled
or trundled like giant toy blocks. Upright, they were cubist forest or cliffs;
next, they could be a boat, a coffin or stacked like a library wall.
the end, the performance was too much of a tribute to the kung fu wizards and
too little attention to Sidi Larbi’s artistic quest.
After all, their
acrobatic technique in itself has limited appeal, like a tourist’s entertainment
act out of its cultural context.