Before you go further, kind reader be warned: the following review is filled with exclamations and clichéd phrases that we’d have previously been ashamed to use, but Sutra demands it.
This piece is extraordinary.
There’s nothing to explain and there’s no need for background: it’s 20 Shaolin monks with 20 man-sized boxes on an empty stage. They toy with space, with shape, with unison and symmetry, and the visual impact of all this is truly astounding.
There’s no story, just an affinity between a Western man and a tiny, 10-year-old monk who together face the other monks in frame after frame of movement and sculpture. The ‘dance’ here is kung-fu and tai-chi, performed with a grace and fluidity that is almost balletic. The identical wooden boxes (designed by sculptor Antony Gormley) are shuffled, stacked, lined up and dropped with the monks disappearing and reappearing between them; the minimalism and simplicity of all this is raw and beautiful.
And the music. Composed by Szymon Brzoska and performed by violin, cello, piano and percussion, it’s a triumphant feat of composition. Whilst dance and music are time-old partners, Sutra is one of those incredibly rare instances where the two are interchangeable, where music, prop and movement are in perfect balance with one another.
The only thing is that there was something close to An Idiot Abroad in watching a Western man play dumb in the face of Shaolin warrior monks. But this really is the faintest of quibbles; it works, it’s pleasing and it received laughs. The piece ends with a climactic surge of energy that was truly breath-taking, and left the audience roaring.
Sutra is incredibly beautiful. An ethereal piece that gives insight into an alien world of discipline and spirituality, it leaves the grime of London squawking at the theatre door. It’s only running for another three nights so for God’s sake, if you have the means to a ticket, go.
That’s really all there is to say.
Sutra is running now until 6 April at Sadler's Wells, Angel. For more information visit the Sadler's Wells website. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.