Shaolin Monks, Wheel of Life

Publicity photo from CoJ website

I attended a performance of the Shaolin Monks, Wheel of Life, at the Teatro Theatre at the Montecasino Casino Resort in Johannesburg yesterday.  I was suitably impressed, not by the supposed superhuman feats of the supposed practicing buddhist kung-fu monks, but by the visual spectacle. 

The Wheel of Life has a  production team which includes Director Micha Bergese (currently artistic director and choreographer of The Millennium Show in the Central Arena of The Dome in Greenwich, director and choreographer for concerts featuring Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen, Julio Iglesias, The Pogues, Tina Turner and Sarah Brightman among others), Set Designer Mark Fisher (Cirque du Soleil, Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics 2008), Lighting Designer Steve Nolan (Montreux Jazz Festival for the last five years, and concerts featuring some of the biggest names in music), Composer John Harle and Sound Designer Simon Honywill. With a team this impressive, it was to be expected that they would create the required mystical atmosphere for the whole production which would lend itself to the superhuman tag the cast was crowned with. 

Apart from the fantastic displays of skill involving the handling of traditional weaponry by individual cast members, all the other acts which alluded to some sort of super-human or supernatural powers, such as lying on a bed of nails while a block of concrete is broken on a disciple’s stomach, walking on carefully positioned meat cleavers, or being held aloft by a set of supposedly razor-sharp spears, can, and has easily been explained by science. 

However the open gasps and mimicked expressions of pain from some members of the adult audience is indicative that they still think that there is some element of the supernatural involved. This is rather surprizing, what with all the available information related to explaining these acts, but no more surprizing than members of certain religious groups believing the same when they witness or participate in, acts of body piercing and self-mutilation, which supposedly occurs under the influence of a supernatural entity or god. In short , why people believe that the East is still mysterious, is an even bigger mystery.

If you’re wondering why a skeptic such as myself bothered to attend this performance, then let me assure you it had nothing to do with wanting to witness supernatural feats, or even curiosity. I just enjoy live stage acts, which involve music, lighting and choreography. I would certainly enjoy a David Copperfield or Siegfried and Roy performance, happily knowing there is actually no magic involved; only the wonders of science being put to work to delight the senses.

So, if you’re going to the East and expect to see kung-fu masters leaping tall buildings, mountains and trees, or smashing through solid walls with their bare hands, then you’re going to be very disappointed. In the same vein, if you are going to pierce your body with all sorts of sharp objects or flay or self-mutilate yourself in any way, expecting to reach a higher level of consciousness, spiritual understanding, get credits for entering a mystical heaven or just to impress some deity with your devoutness and dedication, then you are also going to be seriously disappointed. 

Rather let the masters of showmanship, such as these Shaolin Monks, provide you with the pleasure of watching (albeit sadistic in some instances) without the pain and disillusionment. The human body can without a doubt withstand a great deal of distress, but it’s really dumb to self inflict it, if you’re not going to make some money out of it.