TaikoProject mixes dance and drums
The performance group TaikoProject wowed an audience in Page Commons with their creative approach to traditional drumming and dance.
- Breaking barriers to help all students feel at home
- Jewish students and historical perspectives
- On Africa Week: Group provides opportunities for cultural learning
What do Japanese drums, cartwheels and comical skits have in common? All played a part in TaikoProject’s performance this past Tuesday, March 27, in Page Commons. Founded in Los Angeles, Calif., the contemporary Taiko drumming group formed with the goal of combining Asian music traditions with American influences.
According to Kris Bergstrom, a member of TaikoProject, American Taiko began in the 1960s, when a Japanese American man returned to Japan to study Taiko in Tokyo. After coming back to the United States and seeing the genre missing from the San Francisco Trade Fair, he made it his mission to bring the art form stateside. A relatively new type of music to the United States, Taiko has grown in popularity in the past decades; TaikoProject has performed with musical acts such as Kanye West, Stevie Wonder and Blush.
Douglas Newkirk ’12, a member of the Colby Taiko club, began the performance by introducing the main attraction. Newkirk kept his speech short, describing the group as “young, talented Taiko players.” As Newkirk concluded his speech, a thunderous rhythm of drumbeats and screams filled the room.
TaikoProject stormed the stage with energy. Clad in black and white Under Armour uniforms, the performers grabbed their drumsticks and began their first piece. This work featured acts of showmanship, complex drum solos and choreographed dance moves, a preview of what would become a consistent trend throughout the performance.
Some of the dance moves included jumps, squats and even cartwheels. The group wowed the audience with what appeared to be a drum “wave,” an act similar to the crowd wave seen in American sports stadiums, although now performed with drumsticks.
Bergstrom later said that many people refer to the musical style of TaikoProject as Taiko, which means “drum” in Japanese. More accurately, he said, one should call it “Cummi Taiko,” which in Japanese means “ensemble drumming.”
True to Bergstrom’s description, TaikoProject truly represented an ensemble. They performed on drums of varying sizes, ranging from small, shoulder-carried drums to larger, hanging drums supported by wooden structures.
The group even weaved into their performance instruments popular in American music, such as flutes, shakers, cymbals and a cowbell. The true highlight of the night occurred, however, when the group returned to the Japanese roots of Taiko.
Three musicians donned traditional Japanese masks and costumes to perform a short, comical skit spoken in Japanese. The roles included not only a man and a woman, but also a monster. The skit chronicled the interactions between these characters, while three or four of the instrumentalists performed musical accompaniment.
The performers showed a strong level of communication throughout the skit, a skill that was consistent throughout the entirety of the show. In situations where multiple stimuli occurred at once, the performers constantly made eye contact, spoke to each other and yelled out commands in order to accomplish a tight, uniform sound. Stephanie Yoon ’14, a member of Colby Taiko, said she “loved seeing new techniques.” Yoon added that Colby Taiko participated in a workshop with TaikoProject, where they learned diverse Taiko styles, including hip-hop Taiko.
Overall, from the beginning to the end of the performance, TaikoProject innovated. They introduced the audience to overlayed rhythmic structures, call-response drum pieces, continuous musical transitions between songs and flying, broken drumsticks. Even the merchandise sold featured creative slogans, such as T-shirts saying, “I can’t make it, I have Taiko practice.” To describe the performance, Yoon, in awe, summed it up best: “Awesome.”