A man cracks a whip through the air, chopping in half a tiny piece of paper held in the mouth of another man. Others wield gleaming swords that cut through the air, the sound reverberating across the stage. Sticks, spears, the human body. These are all weapons used by the famous Shaolin monks in the practice of Kung Fu, and now, Joburg audiences can see this astonishing and ancient martial arts form on stage, in the production, SHAOLIN.
The Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Kung Fu, established in the 5th Century. This show begins here and tells the story of five monks who have to hide from the Chinese Emperor, who wishes them dead. Each of the monks specializes in a different discipline within Kung Fu, which they will use in the ultimate battle against the Imperialist’s army.
In this show, twenty Kung Fu masters from around the world perform almost “superhuman feats”. Wood, marble, steel… these obstacles don’t deter the monks, who appear to defy laws of human motion and pain. It’s hard to watch (I cringed), and yet, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from the stage. Perhaps the most astonishing is the performance of a young boy, who twists his body into the bewildering animal-like poses which Kung Fu is based on. All this while two musicians play traditional instruments to provide a haunting and tense soundtrack.
The soldier-monks embody the mental and physical balance that form a large part of Buddhism, which allows them to fly through the air with seeming ease, and allows them to push their bodies to extremes while thwarting serious injury, and even death. The performers become the tiger, the dragon, the leopard, snake and crane – the animals that represent key movements in Kung Fu. Part of the attraction of the show is the binary nature of this kind of martial arts – those who practice it are lethal, and yet, they preach peace and harmony.
The Shaolin Monks deliver a hypnotic and heart-stopping performance that provides a glimpse into a historic cultural phenomenon. Both fans and the impervious can’t help but be moved and astounded by a show that is like the visual spectacle of a Bruce Lee film come to life, just better.
SHAOLIN is on at the Teatro at MonteCasino from 28th June – 10th July 2016. Tickets are available through Computicket.