Japanese taiko drumming is pushed beyond its traditional boundaries by the Kodo Performing Arts Ensemble, a group of young athletic performers who live and train on the Ogi Peninsula of Sado Island. In Dadan 2017, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 23, Kodo explores the tonal and musical capabilities of taiko as well as percussive instruments from other parts of the world in a high-energy performance that is as visually stunning as it is sonically rousing. On the cover is a Kodo performance photo.
Japan’s Sado Island is historically known as a place of exile for court nobles and intellectuals on the wrong side of politics. Today’s Sado Island is home to a population roughly the size of the city of Santa Fe, give or take 10,000 people when factoring in the ebbs and flows of tourism. Though its main industry is farming, as in Santa Fe, the arts and local culture of Sado Island draw travelers from around the world as well as young people interested in pursuing creative careers. Sado Island is well known for performances of traditional folk music and dance, as well as demon drumming and puppet theater, among many other art forms. Kodo Performing Arts Ensemble, with a school that is located in its own village on the Ogi Peninsula of Sado Island, is dedicated to the art of Japanese taiko drumming. Kodo is not a preservation society for taiko but a highly athletic performance group that pushes it from a traditional form and into fine art. Members test the musical boundaries of the instrument and open their compositions up to collaboration with other performers — flutists, Western drummers, or orchestras, for instance, as well as dancers and tumblers. Kodo presents its newest work, Dadan 2017 ,at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 23. In advance of that engagement, Pasatiempo spoke to Kodo member Jun Jidai through an interpreter, Yui Kawamoto, who is also Kodo’s company manager. Jidai has been a full-time member of Kodo since 2014; he first joined the group as an apprentice in 2011.
“I joined a taiko club in high school, even though I wasn’t really into any musical activity until then,” he said. “I was an athlete and played a lot of basketball. But there was a meeting of clubs to introduce them to everyone, and after I saw the taiko performance my athletic career changed 180 degrees. The people who were playing looked really cool.” As a member of the club, Jidai attended many live taiko shows by professional groups. Kodo’s performances stood out in his mind so much that when he was considering his options for after high school graduation, he realized that the one thing he really wanted to do was join them.
Taiko drumming is a stunning spectacle. The drums are enormous — up to 5 feet across, though some are smaller. Kodo drummers, who must be strong, limber, and in top cardiovascular shape, pound the surface with sticks in movements that appear to require the effort of the entire body. Choreography might send them running from drum to drum and changing places with other members, their voices rising as the momentum builds. The performers’ energy increases into a controlled frenzy as the volume reaches a crescendo that Jidai said makes his heart beat very quickly, while he is simultaneously focused and calm. “I’m in the zone. I think it is pleasant, spiritual, and intense.”
In Dadan, the focus of the compositions is on percussion, with no additional musical accompaniment, so the melodic aspects will be coaxed from