Japan's Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble Kodo Returns To The UK In 2018 With EVOLUTION

Japan's Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble Kodo Returns To The UK In 2018 With EVOLUTIONKodo is one of the best known and most influential taiko performing arts ensemble in the world and returns to the UK in 2018 with the European premiere performances of Evolution.

Under the forward-looking artistic direction of kabuki luminary Tamasaburo Bando, Evolution showcases the creative development of Kodo, its past, its present and its commitment to the future of taiko performing arts.

Evolution is presented under Kodo's One Earth Tour banner and received its world premiere in Tokyo in 2016. The five UK performances in Brighton, Manchester, Canterbury, Birmingham and Gateshead between 30 January and 7 February mark the production's very first performances outside of Japan.

Based on Sado Island in northern Japan, Kodo debuted at the Berlin Festival in 1981. Since then the internationally-renowned group of taiko drummers has presented over 5,800 performances in 49 countries on five continents. Kodo strives to preserve and reinterpret traditional Japanese performing arts in productions that encompass energetic and physically-charged ensemble drumming to smaller groups and soloists that feature authentic percussion instruments alongside Western counterparts and song and dance.

In Japanese the word 'Kodo' has two meanings: 'heartbeat', the primal source of all rhythm - the sound of the great taiko is said to resemble a mother's heartbeat as felt in the womb, and it is no myth that babies are often lulled asleep by its thunderous vibrations; Kodo can also mean 'children of the drum' and is a reflection of Kodo's desire to play the drums simply and with the heart of a child.

In an evening that spans over four decades of taiko, Evolution tells the artistic and creative development of Kodo as phrases from signature pieces first heard in 1973 (performed under the name Ondekoza, the group that later became Kodo) to new works created for the premiere in 2016 showcase the ensemble's meticulously honed skills.

Opening the evening is Kei Kei (2014) as the full cast of 15 performers take to the stage playing okedo-daiko (barrel drums) placed over their shoulders allowing the musicians to move amongst the reverberations. The versatility of this taiko drum is also showcased in Phobos (2009), Mute (2013), and Kusa-wake (2013).

After a break from recent One Earth Tour productions, the gigantic o-daiko drum returns to the stage in Evolution. Weighing 300 kg and measuring 140 cm in diameter, the flagship taiko drum is flanked by timpani and bass drums and conjures up deep and powerful rhythms in O-daiko.

Act one ends with Kodo's timeless signature piece, Monochrome (1977) is by legendary composer the late Maki Ishii. Contrasting the simple yet wild nature of taiko performance that is symbolic of Kodo's direction today, the next generation of musicians use a balance of raw power and skill and play the shime-daiko, a high-pitched roped drum.

Act two opens with Color (2009) which utilizes the shime-daiko but in a completely different way. The performers put down their drumsticks and experiment with different percussive sounds as they tap the drums with their fingernails, rub the drums with their hands and throw clusters of jingling bells onto the skins of the drums.

Tackling the gender disparity often associated with taiko, Ake no Myojo (2012) raises the profile of female drummers as women of the ensemble take to the stage in a taiko, dance and song performance. The melodic bamboo flutes in Yuyami (2013) follows and creates a sense of nostalgia that leads into a newer piece Ayaori (2016).

Rasen draws the evening to a powerful close. Rasen features eight performers - the main soloist playing a hirado (large flat) taiko surrounded by seven performers on nagado (long) taiko, okedo (barrel) taiko and timpani. The octet produces complex and precise rhythms and reveals the remarkable variety of drumming techniques Kodo has perfected during its illustrious history.


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