There is an eclectic mix of pastimes in our house. There is fighting, a bit of dancing and I fill the tricky niche of sitting about doing not very much listening to music. Imagine my surprise when I got a text asking me if I wanted to go see Shaolin monks dancing. I immediately replied “yes!” – my head full of images of Jackie Chan in the movie Shaolin.
Instead of Jackie Chan I encountered a show that sits at the intersection of Buddhism, Martial Arts, Modern Dance, Classical Music and flat-pack furniture.
I had considered calling this post “The Battle of the Billy Bookcases” but I’m clearly not that uncouth. What would Anthony Gormley and the good people of Sadler’s Wells think if I compared their art to Ikea? Well. I’d better explain.
The show tells the story of a Westerner trying to join the monks (stay awake though, it’s not all that obvious that’s what’s going on). This is done with a series of scenes that use 16 coffin size wooden boxes. This is the visual art bit. Lots of different arrangements of the boxes, both static and dynamic. It looks pretty cool. I was in the stalls, I suspect higher is better.
The monks move the boxes about like the most lithe and controlled of removal men. The boxes form flowers, walls, buildings, mazes, the entire ever-changing set. It’s both minimal and quite clever.
There is some dance, there is some martial arts type movements, patterns and some weapons. Throughout it all a small band of performers play a beautiful classic soundtrack composed and played by Szymon Brzóska on piano. It has a little of the cello feel of Tan Dun and Yo Yo Ma. I liked the music a lot, even bought the CD on the way out. I know, physical media. Turns out it’s on Spotify, go check it out.
I didn’t know what to expect but I found myself enjoying it.
I didn’t feel the need to laugh loudly a lot, to bolt to my feet in rapturous applause making it clear how much my appreciation was superior or to bring my toddler to the show and let the whole audience enjoy the sound of them throwing up. I’m clearly not posh enough for that kind of behaviour. It did make me envious of some of the martial arts skills though, they might have come in handy.
And, oh yeah, Cultural Diversity? Get it?