I have given myself a new challenge. How do you write about a visceral experience, one that vibrates through your whole body even after it is over. This was the case the other evening when we heard the Kodo Taiko drummers’ troupe from Japan performing at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe on their National tour.
In Japanese the word Taiko means any kind of drum. In the U.S. we understand it to mean not just the Japanese drum but an art form of an ensemble of Japanese drummers which is known in Japan as kumi-daiko. The Kodo ensemble debuted at the Berlin Festival in 1981 and have been traveling throughout parts of Asia, Europe and North America ever since.
They started working on their Dadan performance in 2007. It was such a complicated piece that they were not sure that they could ever finish. They did, however, and Dadan had its first performance in Paris in 2009. This particular Taiko performance, which only uses the young men from the company, is incredibly powerful in every sense.
The word Kodo has two meanings in Japanese both "heartbeat," the primal source of all rhythm. The great Taiko is thought to be reminiscent of a mother's heartbeat as felt from the womb, and babies are often lulled to sleep by its thunderous vibrations… In a different context it can mean, “children of the drum.” If I counted correctly there were 14 drummer/dancers who would rotate and move across the stage with their drums no matter how large as if they were holding a child’s toy.
Heartbeat was definitely what I was feeling that night. As a matter of fact I have an arrhythmia and I was thinking, why did I bother with my pills that evening. This was getting directly to me. It is impossible to know the feeling without hearing the drums themselves and it is difficult to explain something one feels. As they say an illustration is worth a 1,000 words so at least I can give you a small taste if not the actual experience with part of the performance from YouTube.
Unfortunately, your computer or cell phone probably doesn’t give you any better audio than mine does, so you have to imagine yourself in an auditorium. The Lensic has a capacity of 820 seats but I have been told it sounds just as incredible, if less intimate, in an auditorium of 2,500 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Amazingly, as loud, as it was it was not a jarring cacophony.
The Lensic is more than just a theater for film, shows, music and spectacles. It is also a teaching institution and soon I will write about their training program. They also bring in many school children for their first theater experience and the beams on the kids faces is worth the price of admission. In the case of Kodo, however, the Lensic brought Kodo to the students at the Santa Fe Indian School. I am guessing that the Native American kids were relating what they heard to the drums they might hear at a dance on their pueblos, thinking how different this was, but on some level the same. Unfortunately, we could not get permission to show the students with the Kodo drummers but here are a few of the performers themselves at the school.