Dance piece Sutra inspired by skills of Shaolin monks


credit: Hugo Glendinning

Breathtaking show performed by 17 Shaolin monks and Ali Thabet

As a young boy, Ali Thabet was fascinated by Kung Fu. So it’s no surprise to hear him say that spending three months in the Shaolin Temple, with some of the finest martial artists in the world, was an ‘incredible and unique’ experience. Belgian dancer Thabet travelled to China five years ago, to help acclaimed contemporary choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui create Sutra, and after a successful run in 2008, the work is finally coming to Scotland.

Performed by Thabet and 17 Buddhist monks aged 10–26, the show blends lightning-fast martial arts with contemporary moves and an innovative set design by Antony Gormley. Wooden boxes, reminiscent of coffins, are jumped on, climbed into and pushed over by the monks in a display of physical dexterity and precision. Sitting alongside them, are tiny model versions, which the youngest monk plays with during the show.

‘We built the little boxes so we could quickly assemble an idea of how we wanted the big boxes to look,’ explains Thabet. ‘But then the little monks started to play with them as if they were Lego; and the older monks used them to share their ideas for the show with us. So we realised we needed to use those little boxes in our telling of the story.’

Just as the small boxes made it into the production after being used in rehearsal, Thabet and Cherkaoui’s relationship with the monks is also reflected on stage. Throughout the show, Thabet is somehow ‘other’; at times coming close to the monks and sharing their world, then finding himself very much the outsider. ‘We had that same experience in the temple,’ explains Thabet. ‘And although Sutra is filled with metaphors and symbols about many things, it’s also about our experience during those three months we spent there.’

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Fri 17 & Sat 18 May

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui : Sutra 2013


Inspired by the skills of the Shaolin monks, this production from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui features a stage design by Antony Gormley.