Kodo's reputation for virtuoso drumming makes it an unlikely dance review subject, yet this new program warrants dance attention with two specially choreographed works. The program opens with Sakaki, a male solo dance inspired by an age-old Shinto ceremony. The printed notes describes "This somber piece [as] the proverbial calm before the taiko [drum] storm and also acts as a kind of purification ceremony for the theater."
Against a background of nuanced drumming, the lone male dancer, ritually using a flowing white kimono-sleeved upper garment, begins on the floor, rising incrementally with the opening of a fan. Bowing indicates recognition of all deities to signal the ritual has begun. Movement clearly is connected with the surroundings, with a sense of opening doors to experience the natural world and giving offerings to all the aspects of nature. A vocalized prayer, translated through mime asks for good things for all the people in the room. The movements gain dimensional aspects as the dancer turns to all compass points and jumps skyward and descends earthward, gaining momentum in body language of appeasement to all the elements of landscape and human imprint, implying exorcism with arm and fan movements, culminating in a facsimile ceremony of water purification. Turns, jumps, stretches gain momentum, subsiding with the reverberating heartbeat of the drum seeming to enter into the natural surroundings and into the body of the dancer who returns to the kneeling opening position, fan closed, arms folded, at one with the universe, implying we in the audience must equally approach the coming into this space with "fellowship between taiko [drum] and human beings." Sakaki was composed by Masau Tsuji and choreographed by Kenzo Abe (2011).
For Sora (2010) the program states, "Kodo member Shogo Yoshii found his inspiration through the group's recent cross-genre collaborations that include contemporary dance and flamenco. This uplifting, rhythmical composition features the 3-stringed kokyu and Japanese flute, at once showcasing the influences of the music Kodo has encountered in their travels and capturing the aspirations of the group as it enters a new epoch."
Jang-Gwara captures the versatility and levity of jangara cymbals as the players weave beautifully choreographed rhythms throughout this vibrant soundscape. Also included are traditional folk arts from around Japan that Kodo has arranged for the stage, such as the universal crowd-pleasers O-daiko, Miyake, Chonlima, Kumo no Namiji and Yatai-bayashi. Together, these multifaceted pieces create an enthralling program of taiko, song, and dance that delivers the complete Kodo experience. The unity between drummers and drums is choreographed to transmit through body language the meaning, with melody and rhythm interweaving as a flow between numbers to provide a seamless segue rather than a presentation of separate songs.
Kodo's adherence to classic and folk traditions and movement to new works incorporating tradition and the dedication to train and develop drummers and dancers brings to mind the pioneering work by Michiyo Hata who founded The Kikunokai Dance Troupe in 1972. Both groups exhibit pure beauty.
Printed notes further inform, "Kodo's One Earth Tour is a performance experience that is meant to transcend language and cultural boundaries and remind people of the common bond we all share as human beings. In Japanese the word kodo has several meanings: "heartbeat", the primal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko (wide drum) is said to resemble a mother's heartbeat as felt in the womb. The word kodo also can mean "children of the drum," and is a reflection of the performers desire to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child through their dynamic humanism."
Taiko drumming dates to over 2000 years and requires discipline and a precise sense of rhythm. The performers of the Kodo drumming troupe live together, sleep together, eat together, and practice together on Sado Island in the Izu Peninsula off the coast of Tokyo.