BANG! BANG! A swell of bass rattles the darkness in an unlit auditorium as mysterious silhouettes flood the stage with agile speed. The limelight slowly becomes more distinct on center stage exposing three Japanese tribal drummers at the helm of three colossal bass taiko drums pounding them in precise syncopated harmony, and this is the opening act for Composer Tamasaburo Bando’s Kodo: One Earth Tour.
Kodo: One Earth Tour made its rolling stop at the Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC) in Memphis on Feb. 26 to perform the new contemporary taiko drum showcase entitled “Mystery.” The taiko drums use the ancient Japanese technique of percussion to perform traditional Japanese musical theatre.
“This time, I created this piece with the idea that theatre-goers would experience the mood of mystery that they meet at a temple or a shrine, or when you go into the forest – places that are removed from daily life,” said Kodo Composer Tamasaburo Bando.
The show took the audience on an interpretive tribal journey that created an experience meant to penetrate one’s concept of conventional Japanese theatre. This is not the traditional Kabuki theatre that many Americans have seen. At one point, the performers were each doused with a minute light cleverly attached to the back of their bodies’ drum sets amidst total darkness, granting the effect that free-spirited sprites were playfully dancing in rhythm with each individual.
“Their energy and enthusiasm seeps out into the audience,” said returning Kodo fan Judy J. during intermission on Kodo’s physical performance.
Their dance choreography is best likened to a group of luxurious synchronized water fountains firing in delicate harmony with flawless rhythm. The performers commanded every individual movement as though each instrument was trapped within each limb of their flesh. The enchanted audience could not pinpoint when one musical set would end and the next would begin because of the masterful segues that seemed to use slight of hand to trick our senses into disbelief. One moment, three men dressed as tribal witchdoctors were barking at three young Geisha women, and then another average looking man walked across stage, seized the crowd’s attention with a dizzying sound accented by his rooster strut, and just like that nine new drummers appeared onto center stage to transcend the seat-less audience into the next act.
“We knew we would have a large crowd, but we didn’t expect this large a crowd on a Thursday night,” GPAC Education and Outreach Coordinator Emily Hefley said.
“People are curious about Japanese culture,” Hefley continued just before a sea of people washed over the mezzanine at the end of the show.
With an admission fee of only $10 at the front door, the feeling that a fine arts Renaissance could be occurring in Memphis cannot be ignored. As fine arts programs market their shows to a more diverse crowd, Kodo’s traditional prowess coupled with a contemporary vision, exuded serenity as its performers encapsulated the audience with a unique experience of foreign, dark mystery.