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TAIKOPROJECT and Blue13 Dance Company Program Mixed Old and New

by Jessica Abrams
June 26, 2018
Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Los Angeles, CA 90068
323-461-3673
It began with drumming – exuberant, energetic drumming. Around sixteen performers filled the stage, beating out rhythms on drums of varying sizes and engaging in movement that seemed to fuse performer and instrument into one fluid organism. There were drums the size of baby pools being manhandled by women who couldn’t have been more than eighteen, their lively smiles belying a fierce upper body strength that looked to be as much at home in a boxing ring as a stage. There were drums strapped on to equally elfin performers who alternated between beating their own and the next drum over. And everywhere there were smiles – exuberant smiles that indicated a command of the medium and a love of sharing it with the world.

This is Taiko – the use of drums in performance by an ensemble which originated in Japan. “Taiko” itself describes the drum itself, an instrument previously used in the military to motivate troops and call out announcements dating back to the Sixth Century CE. But the use of Taiko in performance, known as Kumi-Daiko, came much later. In 1951, Daihachi Oguchi, a jazz drummer in Nagano, transformed the use of Taiko for practical purposes into an art form, employing varying sizes and allowing for each drum to contribute to the rhythms of the ensemble as a whole.

But art being fluid and ever-transforming, the tradition of Kumi-Daiko has moved into yet another incarnation as witnessed last Saturday night, June 23 at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood with the annual performance of TAIKOPROJECT this time partnering with Blue13 Dance Company. The two companies couldn’t have been more different—Taiko using drums while Blue13's roots lie in Bollywood Dance and expand out from there; but they also couldn't have complemented each other more. Each provided a modern-day twist on an ages-old art form – Blue13 infusing Bollywood with Hip-Hop with ballet with modern dance and TAIKOPROJECT fusing Kumi-Daiko with its own brand of movement – resulting in the two companies, together and separately, making for a beautiful twist on tradition and a platform on which to send that tradition into the next generation.

Brian Yamami, the executive director of TAIKOPROJECT, is a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose influences are as much drawn from American pop culture as from the more pure forms of Japanese Taiko. His eighteen year-old company has not only graced the concert stages of the world, but performed at the Academy Awards, the Grammys, and on the popular show “The Voice”, not to mention sharing the stage (and recording studio) with some luminaries as Stevie Wonder, Usher and Alicia Keys.

On stage the performers swung not just their arms, but their entire bodies as they beat their drums. Upper bodies arched back and swung at the drums with a force that at times yielded a powerful rhythm, at times a lighter, softer one – but each move was deliberate and contributed to a concert of beats and sounds that provided an auditory component to the visual one. Drumbeats were often accompanied by shouts – unintelligible but reminiscent of the occasional exclamation one hears at a Flamenco concert.

Blue13 Dance company was founded over a decade ago by Achinta McDaniel and attempts to fuse tradition Bollywood dance with Hip-Hop, ballet and contemporary dance. With a theatrical style that springs from the rich tradition of a dance focused as much on expression as showmanship, Blue13, like TAIKOPROJECT, elevates a cultural staple and jettisons it into its next incarnation.

And the movement combined so many idioms it was difficult to isolate any one from the other. Women in saris helped root it in a particular cultural region, but interesting twists on ballet moves – feet flexed in front attitude, a la Thai dance – made it a unique style all its own. An adagio featuring one woman and two men added an interesting dramatic tension and a chance to see the Blue 13 dancers’ virtuosic technique with various interesting signature moves added, like arms bent at the waist and hands quivering.

The Ford delved into a true cultural immersion with this program – one that provided both a lesson in rich traditions while providing the audience with nothing other than sheer, good old-fashioned entertainment.

Photo © & courtesy of Gennia Cui


Photo © & courtesy of Gennia Cui


Photo © & courtesy of Gennia Cui


Photo © & courtesy of Gennia Cui

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