A sold-out Barbican Hall welcomed Kodo for an anniversary performance and premiere in one. The Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble celebrates 35 years of worldwide touring since bursting onto the international stage at the 1981 Berlin Festival. Kodo One Earth Tour 2016: Mystery is the second production helmed by the company’s new artistic director Tamasaburo Bando, described as “a work imbued with the sort of otherworldly splendour found in a Japanese temple, or a clearing in the middle of a forest”. There is certainly a lot to live up to.
Kodo is certainly a spectacle. The large drums are something quite alien to western classical music and the ferocity with which the drummers strike the skin is quite breathtaking. The musical aspect of the whole performance is the most impressive and successful. It is testament to the performers and this art of percussion that a purely aural experience is enough to capture an audience. Mystery, however, is billed as much a visual experience as an aural one, and Bando has attempted to create little scenettes in which the drums and few melodic instruments act as a underscore to the drama on stage – be that the dance of an oriental dragon or a comic short in which three ladies attempt to placate hairy god demons. It’s all a bit quirky and quite light-hearted, but entertaining for the most part.
As a spectator I’m quite confused as to what Kodo really is. And I’m not sure it knows itself. Attempting to add to the aural experience by creating these little dramatisations, along with simple choreographed scenes, we are led to believe the performance is more theatrical than it really is. Some scenes are too long and do get quite repetitive. The most engaging sections of the performance are when the drums and other instruments become the centre of the action.
One thing is for sure, Kodo doesn’t take itself too seriously, and perhaps we shouldn’t either. Although the comic moments feel a little out of place, the energy of the performers in all aspects of the show is impressive and engaging. There are elements of the Cirque du Soleil here, in the dynamic lighting, choreographed sections, clowning elements and oriental musical underscoring. It’s something a London audience already knows and loves – and they clearly loved it. A very appreciative Barbican audience displayed their admiration with much cheering and clapping in response to the cacophony of sound.
Kodo delivers with its thumping and impressive drumming. It may not always come together dramaturgically, but you will certainly feel your fingers tingle as the shockwave of sound hits you in your seat.
Koko One Earth Tour 2016: Mystery played for one night at the Barbican Centre. For more information, see the Barbican Centre website.