The UK’s leading dance theatre Sadler’s Wells presents Sutra. 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.
Since its first sell-out performances at Sadler’s Wells in London in May 2008, Sutra has played to over 153,000 people – an average of 90% capacity across 145 performances, in 17 countries. The production has been presented at some of the most prestigious festivals and venues in Europe and beyond, such as the Festival d’Avignon in France; La Monnaie in Brussels; Festival de Otono in Madrid, Berliner Festspiele, Helsinki Festival, New Zealand International Festival, Bregenz Festival, Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris, Grand Theatre de la Ville in Luxembourg, Singapore Festival, Sydney Opera House and The Lincoln Center in New York, selling out all its performances. It returned to Sadler’s Wells in June 2009 for another triumphant sell-out run and played its 3rd season there in March 2010.
Celebrated by audiences and critics alike, the production is a fascinating perspective on the philosophy and faith behind the Shaolin tradition. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui spent several months at the Shaolin Temple in China working with the Monks and exploring his life-long interest in the Shaolin philosophy and its relationship with kung fu.
Sutra, performed by 17 monks from the Temple alongside Ali Ben Lotfi Thabet, sees breathtaking sequences of enthralling, hypnotic movement set around Antony Gormley’s striking design of 21 wooden boxes which provide a compelling, ever-changing environment for the performers. Polish composer Szymon Brzóska crafts a serene score for five musicians, including piano, percussion and strings which is played live.
Born in Antwerp in 1976, dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is the son of a Flemish mother and a Moroccan father. Alongside Sutra he is best known in the UK for his collaboration with Akram Khan, Antony Gormley and Nitin Sawhney for the renowned 2005 production zero degrees. He has previously worked with Alain Platel and Les Ballets C. de le B., Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Royal Danish Ballet to name a few. He became an artist in residence at Toneelhuis in Belgium in 2006 and a Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist in November 2008.
He has recently been awarded the 2009 Kairos Laureate; Europe’s most prestigious cultural award. The Kairos Prize is the biggest, most important cultural award in Europe, presented by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation to one exceptionally talented individual each year, chosen from the fields of fine and performing arts, music, architecture, film, photography, literature or journalism. Cherkaoui succeeds, it said in the reasoning for the jury’s choice, in integrating all cultural spheres and nowhere is this clearer than in Sutra.
Aged between 10 and 26 years old, The Monks performing in Sutra are from the original Shaolin Temple, situated near Dengfeng City in the Henan Province of China and established in 495AD by monks originating from India. In 1983, the State Council defined the Shaolin Temple as the key national Buddhist Temple. The monks follow a strict Buddhist doctrine, with kung fu and tai chi martial arts forming an integral part of their daily practice. There are many martial arts schools that have also been set up in the region under the name of Shaolin, from which performers for many of the more commercial Shaolin Monk shows are drawn.
The performers in Sutra however are all Buddhist Monks from the original temple itself.
The title Sutra is derived from the Pali word sutta, whose primary meaning is a collective term for the sermons of Buddha. It is also a generic term for rules and aphorisms, in Hinduism sutras laid down the guidelines for proper conduct in life. The word in Sanskrit
also meant string, thread, measure of straightness.
Award-winning independent producer and distributor, Axiom Films, teamed up with Sadler’s Wells to produce a film of Sutra on the new ‘Sadler’s Wells on Screen’ label. This new development incorporates all worldwide platforms, including television, DVD and theatrical exposure, bringing Sutra to a wider international audience than ever. Sadler’s Wells and Cherkaoui bvba have also produced a CD of the original score to Sutra, composed by Szymon Brzoska, featuring the original ensemble and available as CD and to download.