One of the main appeals of percussive showcases is that they resonate deep within people. Specifically, the sound of many drums being struck in a rhythmic sequence tends to appeal to a tribal sensation. The fact that people may be living in a technology and information-based society may influence their venue of a drum-centric performance, but whether observing a drum circle on a sandy beach or a Kodo performance while sitting in the luxurious Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, a deep connection within people can be tapped into. The only difference is that with a Kodo performance, the experience also demonstrates intense discipline and a distinct link to the drumming traditions of Japan.
Last night’s performance at Segerstrom marked the eighth stop on Kodo’s first North American tour of their current performance piece, DADAN. DADAN, which translates to “drumming men,” consists of eleven compositions. Each of the compositions is attributed to a current or past member of the group, and each composition demonstrates the dynamic range of several types of taiko percussion instruments, especially the hirado o-daiko (big low drum). Throughout the show, the fourteen members of the group cycle through various stage arrangements, frequently trading instruments with one another, during a piece, without missing a beat.
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Adding to the tribalism inherent in the drumming ensemble, after the first or second composition, the performers doffed their shirts. For the remainder of the show, all of the performers were adorned only with white pants. The spectacle was reminiscent of the film Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s brilliant documentary of the 1936 Olympics, in that it was an impressive showcase of human dynamism.
While a large part of the show was centered around powerhouse displays of drumming, there were a few moments of nuance throughout the show. Some of these moments included comical interactions between the performers as they used various drumming techniques to communicate with one another with smaller percussive instruments. During these moments, some of the varying sounds were created by tapping the drums with fingertips, hitting them with mallets and sticks, rubbing open palms over the drum heads, and even breathing on them.
DADAN is essentially the brainchild of Tamasaburo Bando. Bando, Kodo’s artistic director from 2012-2016, revealed in the playbill that he started rehearsals for DADAN in 2007 and that the various compositions that comprise the show were then developed through intense practice sessions over the next several years. The program notes state that the show continues to evolve, and given that the show premiered in 2009, it is pleasing to know that US audiences have the opportunity to see the latest incarnation of this primal presentation.