The Ordway Center for Performing Arts shook with the sounds of Los Angeles’ TAIKO Project— a contemporary look at the sights and sounds of traditional Taiko drumming— on Saturday, April 23rd.
TAIKO Project ‘s choreographed, rhythmic performance sent through the seats, walls, and floors vibrations so strong that I wondered how things were going for the audience in the theater adjacent to us.
A powerful cast of six men and three women guided the audience through a series of ensemble, small group, duet, and solo performances performed on a wide variety of percussion instruments. Many times over, their performance inspired the full house to jump, cheering, to a standing ovation. This is no small feat in Minnesota—as I have learned in my first two years as a transplant—a land of the super nice, but otherwise rather reserved, people.
These performers played music with their whole bodies. I imagine some of the athleticism I saw was out of necessity; a lot of those drums are huge! But other aspects—like the cartwheels interspersed between drumbeats and the spinning drumsticks—required special coordination, keen spatial awareness, and a developed sense of timing that seemed extrinsic to a musician’s basic skill set.
Some of my favorite moments were when the performers drummed as a full ensemble. They stood with extra wide stances and their eyes intensely focused on their instruments, only shifting their gaze to glance at one another or out at the audience. As the speed and complexity of their drumming increased, they more frequently shouted and shrieked. It was hard to tell what words they yelled or where those utterances were directed at, but I got the impression they were summoning something from within themselves, or us in the audience, or both. Many of these larger group numbers had the vigor and ferocity of a finale, which made me curious about the show’s energetic trajectory. How do you do a “big finish” when half of your show has had big finishes?
Intermittently, the musical sequences were accompanied by dance, spoken text, and theatrical performance reminiscent of mime. I especially enjoyed the trio of dancing women, whose gliding walks, steady rotations, and gently swaying arms brought a welcome shift in energy to an otherwise wild moment in the production.
Many of the larger group numbers had the vigor and ferocity of a finale, which made me curious about the show’s energetic trajectory. How do you do a “big finish” when half of your show has had big finishes? I left this performance on an energetic high, especially because of the audience’s enthusiastic reply at the program’s conclusion. But I’m not sure that my last impression of TAIKO Project surpassed the impact of their opening number.
Nonetheless, I sometimes lose focus at concerts, and these two hours were consistently engaging. It might have been because we were all comfortably seated. Or maybe it was because the music inspired me to imagine dances and made me wish we could have all been dancing along instead of sitting in those cushioned seats.
When I’m not dancing or writing, I teach dance. These days, I find myself regularly reinforcing the importance of commitment, clarity, and precision to my students.
If only they had all seen this performance.