“Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery” performed at the Dallas Music Hall in Fair Park with artistic director Tamasaburo Bando’s second creation: Mystery. “Kodo” will grace only 29 venues in the U.S. and Canada before returning home to Sado Island, Japan. I feel infinitely lucky and blessed to have been a part of last night’s audience. It was a life changing experience to be a part of such raw power and majesty. It is important to understand that there are many taiko drum troops in the world. Taiko is a style of Japanese drum performance. Kodo is a specific troop that is comprised of 100 members: 27 performers, 37 staff and 5 junior members. For the most part, Kodo members live communally on the island of Sado. An apprentice must spend 2 years living at the Kodo school learning. After this time period, those chosen to become junior members spend one more year training and practicing in hopes that they will be selected to become part of the Kodo organization as either performers or staff.
Kodo is a Japanese word that has two meanings: Firstly, “heartbeat” the principal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko drum is said to resemble a mother’s heartbeat as felt by her unborn baby. Secondly, the word can mean “children of the drum,” a reflection of Kodo’s desire to play the drums simply and with the heart and passion of a child. The show was performed in two acts with 10 movements in the first act and 6 in the second. The dynamic use of lighting cast dramatic, and sometimes terrifying shadows on the stage that were as much a part of the performance as any of the drumming, dancing, music or puppetry. As the curtain rose, the stage was filled with the expected traditional Miya-diako and Shme-diako drums that are constructed out of one solid piece of hollowed out wood. But Kodo also adds the Oke-diako drums that are made from several strips of different wood giving the drums unique and varied voices. Enormous snake like dragon puppets add to the drama and whimsy of the opening movement.
Several other movements also included traditional Japanese style puppets and costuming that bring larger than life demons, dragons and beasts to life. Along with the tiako drums, Kodo uses bells, cymbals, whistles, flutes, wood blocks and voices on the stage to give a feeling of mystery that one gets when enters a temple, shrine or even the forest – magical places that are removed from daily life. The 27 performing members of Kodo show incredible strength and grace when the larger drums make an appearance in the middle of the first act, and beginning of the second act. Drums are brought to life with not only mallets and sticks, but hands and even finger nails. Currently there are 5 performing women in Kodo. Tamasaburo Bando brings women onto the stage with a strong, yet feminine dynamic. The women of Kodo have always been present in all aspects of Kodo’s performances. However, with his new creation, Bando gives the women of his troop several pieces that make us laugh and hold our breath in awe. Kodo has also seen a departure from traditional costume.
Throughout the performance, flashes of color and sequence incrusted unitards and skirts blend the ancient with the modern. Kodo can, and did, easily raise the roof at the Music Hall in Dallas last night. They also equally exhibited finesse beyond expectation. One moment the stage is filled with enormous drums thundering, and the next moment a whimsical band of flute and cymbal musicians carry the audience along to the next movement. These quiet moments gave me a chance to catch my breath. I was especially delighted by a story of school girls escaping three demons by lulling them to sleep with food, song and music. Although I don’t speak any Japanese, the skillful use of pantomime, dance and music never left me lost in the story. Last night I sat in a theatre seat in the middle of downtown Dallas for two magical hours. I was so swept away by Kodo’s magical performance, that upon leaving the theatre, I almost expected to see the Sabo Island landscape.