Sutra has been knocking around for a while - I managed to miss it two years ago when I was in Prague on a rare trip outside of Glasgow for the Tanec Praha - and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been around for longer. I saw one of his works in Tramway, and it came straight out of that spirited Belgian choreographic school that I associate with Les Ballets C de la B: a purgatorial dance of death and rebirth, featuring a bit - I'm pretty sure - when Jesus turned up to save the various disgruntled souls from an eternity moaning at each other.
Cherkaoui's collaborators - Antony Gormley (he did that big northern angel, and wasn't he involved in getting people up on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square?) and the Shaolin Temple - are a rather cool combination. The Shaolin temple can't help but evoke king fu action moves, or a Wu Tang b-side when they used to be good, and Gormley is surprisingly sensitive when building for dance.
Originally, Cherkaoui danced and choreographed, but he has been replaced on this tour by Ali Thabet (another former member of C de la B). However, there are still the seven monks from the temple and the iconic wooden boxes that feature in the more spectacular scenes and give the dancers plenty to groove with.
Despite not having seen the production, I am assuming that I am on fairly safe ground when I suggest that it has a spiritual thrust (the title is a clue, I hope). Back in the day, when I started off my career in criticism, I was reticent to accept that dance could be a useful medium for expressing Big Ideas. This was more true for scientific concepts, and I have seen some good companies blow it in trying to express evolution and quantum physics in movement: Chaos and Contingency, however, is a recent example of how a mathematical theory can inform and inspire choreography of rare beauty. And I have found, thanks to the work coming out of Belgium and beyond, that dance is uniquely suited to the exploration of metaphysics.
It's partially because it isn't tied down to the literalism of words - explaining a scientific idea in a scripted play can easily turn into an eye-watering lecture - and the truth of dance has the same abstract quality as the truth of metaphysics: its ontological status is not so absolute, yet its applications are manifold.
We'll just pretend that last paragraph was edited out, shall we?
Instead, let me talk about how Sutra was made with real monks from the original Shaolin Temples - not the ones from associated temples who are featured in the more commercial shows. And
Ali Thabet first worked with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in 2004 when he performed in Tempus Fugit with the les ballets C de la B.