Antony Gormley to team up tiger-style with Shaolin monks for dance piece

by Francesca Martin, The Guardian, November 7, 2007

London, UK -- He has given the north of England an angel, dotted giant statues across the London skyline and made life-size dolls dance onstage. Now artist Antony Gormley is looking to Buddhism: he is working with dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on a new dance piece inspired by the Shaolin monks.

They may be best known internationally for their high-octane, martial-arts routines, but the monks - based in the Shaolin Chan Buddhist monastery in China - will be in more reflective mood in the piece, entitled Sutra, for which Gormley is designing the set and the lighting.

Performed by 16 dancers, the piece - which the monks themselves asked Cherkaoui to create - considers the monks' relationship with living creatures, and the ways in which the human body can re-interpret the spirit and energy of animals such tigers and snakes.

"The monks wished for Sidi Larbi to create something different to their usual martial arts and bright lights routine, which has become a sort of circus," Gormley says. "We wanted to go back to the internal conceits of Chan Buddhism, about the philosophy of emptiness, and how energy goes through but is never contained by the body."

The last time Gormley worked with Cherkaoui, he designed the life-size dolls with which Cherkaoui and fellow dancer/ choreographer Akram Khan performed in their critically acclaimed 2006 dance piece, Zero Degrees.

For Sutra, Gormley has created three walls made of plywood boxes, with which the dancers will interact - a concept from his piece Allotment 11.

Gormley - who is also preparing for a new solo show at London's White Cube Mason's Yard Gallery next year - says that working with Cherkaoui for a second time is "enormously exciting and inspiring. He thinks with his knees and his body in a way that is quite remarkable. It is like having the most conscious clay you could ever have."