Review Shaolin Warriors
olympia theatre, dublin
A dozenluridly attired menlurch left and right, grunting incoherently, occasionally waving their fists.It could be just another Friday night in Dublin were it not for the fact that the men areshaven headed and Chinese speaking, their sommersaults and crazy pirouettes characterized by a gracefulness verging on eerie. When one smashes a pair of swords across his gleaming pate and stoically bows, the gasps of astonishment around the room verge on deafening.
From the spiritual home of kung-fu, the Shaolin Temple in China's remote Henan province, a troupe of warrior monks is giving a masterclass in swoonful quasi violence. They spar extravagantly , bend their frames into impossible shapes, turn cart-wheels, orange robes a blur of calibrated energy.One set piece involves a warrior standing midair on a silver quarter-staff; in another a burly performer is thunked repeatedly in the belly with a battering ram. By the end his stomach is so red it practically glows.
The Shaolin monastery was founded with the aim of combining the lethal efficiency of Chinese martial arts with the zen values of Buddhism. For decades it languished in quasi obscurity. It took a 1982 kung-fu movie starring Jet Li for this enigmatic community to gain worldwide celebrity. Now 40,000 devotees travel to Henan annually, to learn at the feet of the masters.
An evening of straight ahead violence would probably jar. But the Shaolin Warriors are also at pains to emphasise their spirituality.
Throughout, Chinese-restaurant chillout music parps mysteriously ; flurries of fist play are interspersed with scenes in which the practitioners bow, pray and adopt the inscrutable expressions of gentleman thinking Deep Thoughts.
As you'd expect, there are moments of outright po-facedness, though they make an effort to relieve the seriousness by dragging punters up. Early on a monk attaches a metal bowl to his stomach, then sucks in his six-pack. An audience member is asked to remove the bowl, which refuses to budge.
Cynics will detect a whiff of shtick and it is true that, over two hours, the performance begins to resemble a cross between a Bruce Lee film and an afternoon in a flotation tank. One might imagine that observing lots of heavily built young men pretend to elegantly slap the tar out of each other would raise the pulse. Instead, the crowd is lulled into a sort of giddy trance. If the mission of the Shaolin Warriors is to demonstrate that martial arts can be a spiritual undertaking as much as a flesh and blood one, their latest show succeeds with aplomb.