High energy. Dynamic. Dramatic. Engaging. Funny. Amazing. All are adjectives that describe N.C. State LIVE’s one-night-only Feb. 20th presentation of Yamato: The Drummers of Japan, a seven-person group of drummers who really rocked the Stewart Theatre in NCSU’s Talley Student Union in Raleigh. With a powerful sense of showmanship, incredible drumming skills, and the energy of acrobats, this cultural phenomenon left a huge impact on the full-house audience.
The stage was graced with a cherry tree backdrop, the large drums set up on a platform, smaller ones below. The lights were dark when the Yamato Drummers enter slowly from the sides of the stage, each picking up his/her drum to begin the first part of the program, entitled Habataki (Wingbeat). The effect was a powerful one: dark figures dressed in truncated kimonos, black pants, and wielding the power of their drums as if they were samurai swords.
The small drums (shimedaiko) and the impressive large drums (okedodaiko) played off against each other as the drummers themselves created an intricate dance between their bodies and their instruments. The performance program states that the composition “makes you feel the energy of a challenge with the image of the movement of flying off into the sky.”
The troupe, formed in 1993, tours the world for 10 months out of the year, bringing their unique perspective on traditional taiko drumming to 51 countries around the world. The Yamato culture reigned in Japan from 300-800 A.D., typified by great emperors and the birth of the Shinto religion. Masa Ogawa founded Yamato Drummers in Nara, the birthplace of Japanese culture.
The drummers feel that the sound of the drum is a heartbeat (shin-on), and their performance strives to mimic that heartbeat and to remind each of the audience members that the sound is the one thing we all share. “Bakuon, The Legend of the Heartbeat” is the program’s theme, and is repeated throughout each section of the performance.
All eight sections of the performance mimic Japanese poetry, as does the first, with some including visual complements such as cherry blossoms falling on the drummers as though the trees on the backdrop had magically come alive. At other times, the drummers encourage interaction with the audience, building a humorous call-and-response that showcases the talents of the drummers as they challenge each other to a “drum off.”
The second half of the evening ups the ante; and the drummers, who each appear in a type of rock-star outfit (jeans and a sleeveless long kimono with Doc Maartens), exhibit an explosive energy that is both exuberant and astonishing. It is even more obvious when the lights are brighter on stage that these performers are exceptionally physical. The arm muscles are toned; and the drummers jump and dance, all the while keeping time with their drums and smiling as though they are having the time of their lives. There is a point at which the players show off their physicality by playing their drums during sit-ups that require them to balance their bodies over the edge of the stage.
Their excitement is infectious and flows into the audience, bringing N.C. State LIVE patrons to their feet several times, with shouts of encouragement and appreciation. The players are young, their hair wild, their smiles contagious, and their voices rambunctious. They tease each other, challenge each other and, above all, entertain with that one instrument that we all have: the heart. It was an amazing performance, one that truly brought the house down.
YAMATO: THE DRUMMERS OF JAPAN (N.C. State LIVE, Feb. 20th in the Stewart Theatre in NCSU’s Talley Student Union). SHOW: https://live.arts.ncsu.edu/events/current-season/yamato/
2015-16 SEASON: https://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/currentseason/index.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/index.html, https://www.facebook.com/NCStateLIVE, and https://twitter.com/NCStateLIVE.
Yamato: The Drummers of Japan (taiko drummers from Asuka, Nara, Japan): http://www.yamatodrummers.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/YAMATO-the-drummers-of-Japan-120498111366784/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/yamatodrummers (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadaiko_Yamato (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/YAMATOTHEDRUMMERS (YouTube).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.