Shaolin Riverdance? The amazing Mr. Cherkaoui and Sutra at Carolina Performing Arts



  • Andree Lanthier
Carolina Performing Arts
@Memorial Hall, UNC Campus
Nov. 10-11

Belgian choreographer-performer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has one of the most graceful, flexible and articulate bodies on the world stage. His aesthetic—at least as expressed in Sutra, an hourlong entertainment created with the support of British dance presenter Sadler’s Wells—doesn’t bother to temper this facility with subtlety or nuance. “I feel like I just saw a Chinese version of Riverdance,” one theatergoer was overheard to say at Wednesday night's show.

As the performance concluded, the audience rose up for a noisy standing ovation. Popping out of their seats in a single lighting-fast move, all were no doubt inspired by the martial-art pyrotechnics of the Shaolin monks who’d just wowed us with the mind-boggling speed, power and complexity of their movements.

  • Hugo Glendinning
In Sutra, Cherkaoui has chosen to cast himself as a bendable, yogi-like clown protagonist against a unified corps of 17 formidable young male warriors from China. He comes across as a slightly alien, Western weirdo, sometimes watching from the periphery, sometimes wandering among their midst. “He’s so creepy,” whispered a woman during the performance.

An adorable miniature monk, backflipping boy prodigy brings a third dimension to the alien-Euro-guy vs. sacred-Asian-army duality; squaring out the drama are 16 man-sized rectangular wooden boxes, which are dragged, propped, dropped and stacked to form a dizzying array of landscapes and images during the performance.

The highlights of Sutra come when performers from among the monks are given solo time on the stage. During these moments, the Shaolin tradition blends with choreographic sensibility to communicate astounding elegance, complexity and power with directness and simplicity.

There is one more performance tonight at 7:30. Ticket info is here.

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