Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
Photo courtesy of www.psu.edu
Photo courtesy of www.psu.edu
With arms flailing and drums ringing, the Japanese Taiko drumming group Kodo made themselves heard at the Williams Center for the Arts Wednesday night, putting on a more cerebral show than the audience probably expected.
Taiko drumming originates from ancient Japanese festivals and rituals. Around the 1980’s, Taiko moved from the streets to the stage, and Kodo was one of the movement’s pioneering groups.
Kodo encompasses traditional and modern styles, using elements of kabuki, the bizarre Japanese dance-drama.
And it showed. Kodo was less a concert and more of a stage show.
The first act was seamlessly divided into three pieces. If you didn’t know better, you’d probably guess it was all one piece. The transitions were incredibly subtle. The drummers would subtly deviate from one another, trading solos that would flow from one to the next.
Each member on stage was equal parts dancer, singer, musician, actor, and athlete. Showing off muscle and musicianship, the performance was physical and demanding.
And maybe a little underappreciated.
Most people at Lafayette are familiar with Taiko through the Yamato Drummers, who visit every two years. Kodo is much older than Yamato and more traditional.
Yamato is loud, spirited, and aggressive. Kodo, though, focuses more on the finer—and more neglected—side of Taiko. They present a taste of Japanese culture, not just explosive drumming.
The audience didn’t seem prepared for the depth of Kodo’s performance. Most people probably expected the ear-splitting intensity of Yamato. The majority of Kodo’s work, though, was comparatively subdued and pensive.
It didn’t seem like everyone appreciated it.
People in the audience—many of them Lafayette students—were checking their phones, talking to each other, and shifting around in their seats. For a subtle performance that required focus from the audience, it detracted from the experience.
The second act was more approachable to a less patient audience. The pieces were rambunctious, the costumes garish, the drums bigger, the performers more animated.
The people behind the scenes deserve plenty of credit. The lighting complemented the music’s mood perfectly, from pitch-blackness to warm spotlights, making the performance visually stimulating. The production asked that all electronics be turned off, not just because it’s rude, but because the slightest beam of light from the audience could break your focus.
Like most Japanese stagecraft, Taiko drumming demands a lifetime of commitment and practice.
In addition to arduous rehearsals and intense shows, Kodo’s performers run long distances to build endurance. They also partake in communal Japanese traditions, like rice growing and tea ceremonies, to strengthen a sense of family.
And it showed on stage. But it’s a wonder if everyone in the seats could see it.