The Lowry‘s Lyric theatre is packed on this dreary Tuesday. Dance is usually quite well attended here in the North West, with school groups, dance students and theatre-types, but tonight there is a real mixed bag in the auditorium, which is a thrill to see. It makes sense that the audience have come to see this UK tour of Sutra. Take 17 monks from the Shaolin Temple, add a set design from Turner Prize winning artist, Anthony Gormley, choreography from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, music by Szymon Brzóska with his musicians and one male dancer and you have yourself a winning formula which not only entertains but also is a surprising catharsis.
The muted opening of the piece – the dancer and the youngest monk (around 11 years of age) sit on one of the 18 boxes. It is stark and simple. The two muse over a tiny replica of the set. It is their quiet lament on the theme of the piece. ‘Sutra’ literally means rope or thread binding everything together. Metaphorically, it is a rule or set of rules that are also binding – although there are no real answers as to what the dance means. In fact, Ali Thabet (the dancer involved with the show) explains that “it is up to the individual to decide what it means, but the boxes become lotus flowers, and coffins and also the Shaolin Temple”, suggesting everything is connected – that all things in this world are, somehow bound.
The music composed by Szymon Brzóska links this theme, often taking the audience on an Eastern carpet ride to the hills in the Henan province of China and then fast-forwarding us to Europe. We travel through time and space with the musician’s collaboration. This evening’s homage to Total Theatre works, in part, due to the dialogue between musician and dancers, which is continuous, and flowing, each taking cues from one another. This ‘live’ element of the piece is what gives it its haunting, visceral immediacy.
The production began life more than six years ago but it did not start well. The choreographer visited the temple situated on Mount Song but was turned away having explained his idea to the abbot. It was only on the fifth attempt that finally an agreement was made. This began a journey for the team to create a piece combining Kung Fu techniques with choreography. The result is a mesmeric, moving and often funny evening’s entertainment.
If you were lucky enough to see the show, you are now part of the Sutra and are bound to it, as all things are bound together, forever.
Review by Lucia Cox
What: Sutra, Dance Consortium/Sadler’s Wells
Where: The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford
When: May 14-15, 2013
More info: www.thelowry.com; www.sutratour.com