Concert review: Group's show an intense mix of movement and drumming
BY SUSAN L. PENA
MARCH 10, 2019
Rumbling and galloping, San Jose Taiko plunged into their dazzling performance Sunday afternoon in the Miller Center for the Arts with all the exhilaration of tearing across a plain on horseback.
The eight-member ensemble, led by artistic director Franco Imperial, has put its distinctive stamp on the centuries-old practice of Japanese drumming. The retrospective of their work, ranging from the 1978 “Gendai ni Ikiru,” by Gary Tsujimoto, blending traditional and swinging jazz rhythms to two 2016 works, found the sweet spot at the intersection of drumming and dance.
With every move, including getting drums on and off the stage, choreographed, San Jose Taiko has visual appeal equal to the auditory/visceral appeal of the actual drumming. The moves varied from cathartic flinging of arms and bodies at the drums to slow-motion martial arts; the drummers' grace and exuberance were utterly captivating.
Their first two numbers, “Spirit of Adventure” and “Free Spirit,” both by co-founder Roy Hirabayashi, combined precision and flamboyance, which subsided into solemn drumbeats for Imperial's 2007 “DoR,” created for San Jose's annual Day of Remembrance, commemorating the signing of Executive Order 9066, forcing Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II.
The piece's somber beginning evolved into a powerful, celebratory ending, and that was followed by Imperial's ecstatic, strenuous “Gathering.”
“She Trembles,” composed by Dylan Solomon after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, conjured an angry earth with lurid red lighting and threatening drum sounds.
Imperial's “SoreSamba,” in which taiko meets Brazilian Carnival, was a joyous mashup of samba sounds and rhythms with the taiko's deeper, full-bodied sounds.
In “Iruka” (dolphin), Imperial found ways to create ocean sounds with sudden surges from the mysterious deep; Hirobayashi's duet “KinMoku” was a beautiful oasis of calm with a large gong, small chime and bamboo flute.
In the most challenging and fast-moving pieces, like Hirabayashi's “NanaShi” (7/4), Jeremy Nishihara's “Hayku,” Jose Alarcon's “Seven Lands” and Yurika Chiba's “Wagamama,” the intensity of the performers and the pounding rhythms awakened something deeply primal in the listener. It was impossible to sit still.
Tsujimoto's amazing finale, “Oedo Bayashi,” inspired by Oedo Sukeroku Taiko of Japan, gave each drummer a chance to combine movement and drumming in breathtaking improvised solos.
Rina Chang, Chiba, Imperial, Yuzu Kubota, Mitchell Fukumoto, Geoff Noone, Alex Hudson and Rylan Sekiguchi each projected their own distinctive, wildly inventive personalities in this unforgettable performance.