By Dan Cava
March 10, 2017
Rhythm is at the core of human existence. We breathe in the steady back and forth of respiration. Our footsteps clack out a beat to tell us how fast were moving over the ground. Our hearts pound out the time signature of our very survival. If our pulses are strong, if the beat is steady, we know we are alive.
This Monday at Belk Theater, the legendary Japanese music company KODO (whose name means both “heartbeat” and “children of the drum”) brings its celebration of rhythm to Charlotte. Kodo has long been the vanguard of “taiko,” the ancient legacy of percussion-based traditional Japanese music. Normally embellished by a troupe of singers, flutists, and costumed dancers, this year’s production, DADAN 2017, strips down the group’s performance to its most primal state – drums and lots of them. Dadan 2017 features the male members of Kodo, who have undergone years of training and communal living to hone their skills and artistic cohesion. Dadan 2017 plays out in a series of coordinated and improvised expressions that, according a press release, “challenges the limits of the player’s physical, technical, psychological and spiritual talents.” The result is a profound and primal musical experience unlike any other.
We spoke with Kodo company member Masayuki Sakamoto about what Charlotte audiences can look forward to in Monday’s exclusive performance.
The idea for Dadan came from a desire to highlight to extraordinary focus and exertion of the Kodo players.
“As practice gets intense at night with sweat running down our bodies, us young performers began to think that this intensity can be a good concept for a production,” explained Sakamoto. “It was only natural to have percussion instruments only for this production, as drumming was a big part of our training. Incorporating bamboo flute parts like our usual productions was discussed in the creation process of the production however, the concept of ‘drumming’ and ‘hitting’ was very clear to us, and it was a fresh idea for us to keep drumming for one whole performance.”
“Traditional” meets “Avant-Garde”
“The sound of a taiko drum is very nostalgic to us with Japanese ears, and even more nostalgic when we hear and play them outside of Japan.”
But even though the legacy stretches back for centuries, Sakamoto said, the art form is still on the cutting edge: “This might come to a surprise, but Kodo is not just an ensemble that portrays Japanese traditional art forms on stage, but has been avant-garde since the very beginning. By still keeping the spirit and the culture of taiko, we hope to continuously seek for new ideas in the musical art form.”
The performers on stage have undergone a rigorous training and selection process. Sakamoto told us that Kodo’s training program “is held on an abandoned school house on our home ground, Sado Island, away from Kodo Village, and you live communally with your classmates with no access to the internet, TV, or cell phone.”
Being a part of Kodo is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle: “During the apprenticeship program, we train for not only taiko drumming, but different traditional art forms such as tea ceremony and Noh theatre, as well as learning to farm our own produce and build ties with the community, all while taking care of your own lifestyle by cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry with your classmates.”
“Dynamic” Power with “A Delicate Touch”
Sakamoto believes in Kodo’s power to reshape people’s perceptions of Japanese music. The range of music, the raw power of the performances, and the overwhelming rhythms are meant to leave a lasting impression.
“I can guarantee that this performance will change your impression of a Japanese taiko drum!” Sakamoto promised. “Please witness the stylish and dynamic powerful performance put on by our male cast with a delicate touch.”
Kodo: Dadan 2017 plays for one night only Monday, March 13 at 7:30pm at Belk Theater.