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Review: ‘Taiko’ opens UH spring season
BY RYAN SENAGA / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Kennedy Theatre at the University of Hawaii at Manoa begins its spring season with the appropriately named “Taiko Drum and Dance.” The Department of Theatre and Dance teams up with the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble to deliver a melding of interpretive dance and the incessant, pulsating, throbbing pounding of the taiko drums under concert director Peggy Gaither Adams and musical director Endo himself.
Really, what else could it possibly have been called?
‘Taiko Drum and Dance’
Presented by the UH-Manoa Dept. of Theatre and Dance
» Where: Kennedy Theatre, 1770 East-West Rd.
The show actually begins with a short traditional hula, choreographed by Vicki Holt Takamine, devoted to Pele, the goddess of fire and volcano. The dancers use long and short dancing sticks and the whacking is well timed and audibly resonant.
But from that point, it’s all taiko and dance.
Things start off with the premiere of “Midnight Moon,” a Kenny Endo original composition. Here we get an initial understanding of the melding of contemporary dance and taiko drumming. The dancers themselves are holding fan drums and they move and beat it in time with Endo, who at this point is performing solo with only a synthesizer player as back-up.
The performances slowly ramp up with the next number, “Empty Sky,” as the performers use the shime daiko or “small rope-lashed drum.” The instrument looks like a set of bolos about to be thrown to wrap around the head of a bad guy but the twirling movement provides a hypnotic whooshing, helicopter sound that creates an almost alien environment.
The next number, “Yamamamba De Ko’olau,” follows a dancing mountain sprite and a sense of the noh play is injected with the white-faced dance performer. The music of the sweeping piece came to Endo during drives along the Koolau mountain range.
It all ends before intermission with “Tatsumaki,” a taiko number devoted to the tornado and here is where the sheer power of Kenny Endo’s master ensemble is unleashed with irresistibly moving, thumping fury.
All the music performed during the production is live with Endo’s ensemble either discreetly positioned at the side of the stage or on the stage as the main spectacle itself. The excellent synthesizer player provides most of the non-traditional music cues.
The second half of the production feels more dance-focused with the taiko ensemble mostly off to the sidelines. The most impressive of the last four set pieces is “Sosen,” one of three projects in the show funded with the help of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and Arts. Here, bharatanatyam (classical southwestern Indian dancing) meets kabuki theatre, and with the jiggling ankle bracelets on the dancers’ legs, the traditional bharatanatyam movements and sounds are mesmerizing.
As one loudly vocal member of the audience put it during this cheerful dance almost fit for the end of a Bollywood flick: “Chee, swaaag.”
What helps is that the production’s program, handed to you before the show, is well-researched and serves as an indispensable little guide to the meaning and background of each performance; so you’re not walking into the experience blind. The program is basically like a Cliff’s Notes to the show that actually helps broaden the appeal and explain things to the crowd that is not as well-versed in taiko or dance.
This, of course, brings one to the question: Who is this performance for? The simple answer is a viewer who is into taiko and/or dance. The not-so-simple answer is someone open to broadening their artistic horizons.