with video: UMS favorite Kodo drum troupe returning to Hill Auditorium with new leader
Note: This article has been changed to correct the venue.
photo by Takashi Okamoto
Then some decidedly undangerous artists settled there: The founders of Kodo, the extraordinary Japanese drumming troupe that was recently named a Living National Treasure, took up residence there in the 1960s and established a community dedicated to learning the island’s folkways and preserving the traditional art of taiko playing.
Kodo members like company manager Jun Akimoto are fond of saying that the sound of the drum defines a community’s boundaries; and on tours around the world, it has united the Sados of the world with towns like Ann Arbor and cities like Paris.
In fact, it calls its tours “One Earth” tours. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kodo’s One Earth tours—this one bears the additional title “Legends”—but it is also a beginning for the group in at least one way: It is the first tour since the legendary Kabuki luminary Tamasaburo Bando took over as Kodo’s artistic director.
Tamasaburo, as he is often known, has worked with the company since the early 2000s, but when the group arrives at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium Friday for its 23rd performance under University Musical Society auspices, the audience may notice a few new Tamasaburo touches, from costuming to stagecraft and dramatic pacing.“In this production,” Tamasaburo writes in program notes, “I wanted to create a performance that pays homage to the profound expressions of Kodo to date, adds splendor and levity, and harmonizes all elements into a single flow that undulates throughout the program. I have also composed new pieces in the hopes that they will be passed on to future generations. In these days of tremendous challenge and difficulty, my aim is simply to create a performance that will transport the audience into an inspiring alternate reality, even if just for a brief spell.”
Sado Island played a part in Tamasaburo’s decision to take on Kodo’s artistic direction.
“I have been visiting Sado Island regularly for the past 10 years to work with Kodo, directing the performances, as well as appearing on stage alongside the ensemble,” Tamasaburo reflected in a recent statement about his work with Kodo. “Through my involvement with these productions, I realized the importance of confining yourself to one specific place to train. Getting away from the city where you are surrounded by technology, you face yourself, come face to face with your purest form. In the natural surroundings of Sado, you can experience a rare opportunity to get back in touch with your own soul and can even sometimes feel the concealed breath of ancient times on your own skin.”
Friday’s program, which lasts two hours, including an intermission, brings back traditional Kodo favorites like O-daiko, which features giant drums weighing nearly 900 pounds; revised versions of pieces like “Monochrome,” with its subtle panoply of tones and rhythms; and new pieces, like Tamasaburo’s 2012 “Kaden.”
Old, new or revised, the pieces are sure to offer visual excitement as well as aural stimulation. The drum, and Kodo’s members, beat their way into viewers’—and listeners’—hearts.