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March 10, 2015

kodoKodo One Earth Tour 2015: Mystery

Reviewed March 9, 2015

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

There’s something deeply sensual and fundamental about the rhythmic beat of a drum. It awakens the soul and touches those who hear the continuous pounding in a profound way.

An Ottawa audience was stirred to such profundity and rapt applause Monday when the Japanese Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble Kodo came to the National Arts Centre for a one-night performance of its new spectacle, One Earth Tour 2015: Mystery, as part of a two-month US/Canada tour.

Exhaustingly high energy, the 15 performers take us to our inner heartbeat, a primeval place that is both exciting and threatening, with the driving pulse of their bachis or wooden sticks used to strike the drums. Sometimes their arms and drumsticks become a blur of movement.

At other times, the percussion becomes a soft palming of the drum skin that invites a quiet inhalation to hark the soft pulse within. And then it gives way to a rigorous pounding that emerges from deep within the performers, a thunderous sound that can be nearly frightening.

Jazz drummer Daihachi Oguchi revolutionized the way the traditional Japanese taiko was played more than 60 years ago, conceiving of the concept of playing as a group. Since then, the art and culture of taiko has spread throughout the world.

kodo mystery_Chigasaki2One Earth Tour 2015: Mystery is artistic director Tamasaburo Bando’s second creation for the group Kodo. Theatrical with lavishly decorated and gilded serpents, demons and dragons, their eyes glowing like coal in the darkness, the two-hour work is a unique spectacle. Bando, a leading Kabuki actor recognized for his profound aesthetic sense, first directed a Kodo production, One Earth Tour: Legend, in 2012, which toured Japan, the United States and Europe. Mystery premiered in Japan in 2013 and began touring in 2014.

The lighting for Mystery, designed by Kenichi Mashiko, is magical: paper lanterns float above performers, some actors move nearly invisibly on the stage carrying spots to highlight other performers, and there is always a sense of watching an outside, late-night event, perhaps deep in a forest. The enchanting illumination always informs the mood and the action. Sometimes, bare-chested drummers are bathed in red, adding an air of forbidden ritual.

kodo mystery_ChigasakiMost of the 18 works that comprise the show are new, and some are based on regional traditional Japanese performing arts. Chit Chat is a witty mysterious little tale, featuring four women who chatter in a chaotic argument, their voices accompanied by a variety of light percussive instruments that reflect their conversation. Eventually, the discussion becomes a lyrical dance, which stirs up a polka-dotted beast.

Bando, who was moved by the natural world and the beauty of the night on Japan’s Sado Island, where Kodo is based, says of Mystery:

Darkness is beautiful and also scary. You look at the road by the light of the moon or the gleam of the stars. You look at blades of grass glistening in the night. The horizon of the sea glows dimly. You see what looks like lanterns far away. If they were near you, they would just be ordinary lanterns, but when you see tens or hundreds of them lined up in the distance, you feel the mystery that is in humanity itself.


From → Spectacle

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