Drum Tao

  • Drum Tao

7/24/15 (Fri), Tokyo

A performance of Japanese taiko drums dressed up in a dramatic frame. Drum Tao is a group of young well-built drummers and athletes from Oita Prefecture in Kyushu that has apparently been around a while – the program (unusually distributed free) says they’ve performed in 400 cities in 20 countries. But they were new to me.

Unfortunately the director imposed a story on the show, something about happy natives in a blissful countryside suddenly disrupted by climate change and marauding foreigners. A child left orphaned is raised by the village and grows up to be a strong and promising youth, but is abandoned when an unsuccessful attempt to break up a fight causes injury to his friend (a la Honzo-Hangan or Romeo-Mercutio). A goddess in a white robe appears from heaven, and… no need to go into more detail, but the show has all the usual elements of this director: comic actor venturing out to sit on audience member’s lap, actors fighting over spotlight, actors entering through the audience to start the show’s second half, melodramatic acting, overstated themes of environment and war. His bag of tricks is looking more like a coin purse.

A shame, because the drumming itself was spectacular, complemented by acrobatics, robust dancing and other inventive movement, and some impressive staging. There was a good variety of taiko and other instruments, as well as baton twirling, sword fighting and more. The more memorable moments including a beautifully executed single-file lineup on the stair with timed armed movements, a massive red cloth flown by actors over the heads of the audience to represent a storm, and an exuberant scene where the cast lined up across the stage playing drums at arms length. There was also a nice magical transition from a puppet child to an adult drummer. The dynamic cast of around 20 young male and five female drummers moved virtually nonstop from start to finish in an amazing display of energy. They looked like they were having fun, which was infectious. The second half ditched the tenuous story and came off much better, but the playing itself was terrific throughout.

One note: the costumes, by Koshino Junko, were hideous blue Santa Claus-looking robes with thick white sleeves and collar draped over one shoulder and across the chest. The other shoulder was left exposed. I don’t know what she was thinking. It wasn’t attractive to look at or interesting in terms of the story. I wonder if she actually saw the show before designing it.

In any case, the drumming and staging made the show very much worth seeing. Hopefully the players won’t experiment with narrative in the future and stick to what they do best.


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