An exhilarating contemporary twist to traditional Japanese drumming.
Watching the CNA Lifestyle documentary playing onscreen before the performance begins, one immediately realises how A day in the life of a Drum Tao member is no easy feat. Waking up at the crack of dawn, the group gathers to warm up before a 20km jog around the mountainous, high altitude area, regardless of rain or shine. When that’s done, they return for breakfast, before the training continues, with muscle training, choreography, drumming for hours on end and more, breaking only for meals in between before they end for the night. If anything, being in Drum Tao is more akin to a lifestyle than it is a job.
Suffice to say then that with the intensity of the training, each team attached to each Drum Tao performance is a tight knit, incredibly well-trained family of performers, each member displaying almost superhuman physique, grace and finesse with their craft. And so it is that all this effort and preparation comes through completely in each performance, as we witnessed at Drum Tao: Rhythm of Tribe at the MES Theatre last Saturday.
Bringing together traditional Japanese drumming and other instruments, Drum Tao effectively combines these with elements such as projections, contemporary choreography and more to create an exhilarating, thoroughly modern experience. Loosely following the tale of a samurai travelling across time in search of virtue and things past, Rhythm of Tribe opens with a monochromatic projection of an urban metropolis, setting stage as the screen lifts and members roll out taiko drums of various sizes, heralding the beginning of the epic performance about to unfold.
Rhythm of Tribe is almost constantly a spectacle to behold, with huge drums, intricate movements, and plenty of chiselled abs onstage to ensure audience members are gripped at every moment. The detailed projections by ZERO-TEN help immerse us completely into each scene, from the roll of crashing waves as drums are beaten loud, to the hanging moon over a peaceful sea, as performers on the koto and shamisen slow down the beat while performer Arisa Nishi dances in a fitted dress, her gossamer sleeves floating, ethereal as she tosses them and flits across the stage. We watch a procession of royalty walk purposefully across the stage while dressed in regal robes by acclaimed designer Junko Koshino during a court scene, filling us with awe and wonder at the sheer majesty of it all.
Drum Tao also displays genuine creativity in their craft, with an entire scene dedicated to a tongue-in-cheek performance completely in the dark. Performers don black full bodysuits equipped with controllable lights creating a green silhouette as and when they want, allowing them to form optical illusions as they dart back and forth the stage, seemingly ‘teleporting’. In yet another scene, the performers prove their penchant for humour as most of the ensemble play the drums while in a half sit-up position, evidently a physically demanding segment as they sweat it out. In-between, video cameras zoom in on performers’ faces and project a live feed to the screen behind, displaying the scrunched up, sweaty expressions of each drummer, much to audiences’ simultaneous marvel and amusement.
At all times, the energy of the performers is a true sight to behold in each and every scene. Always armed with a smile, one can practically feel their enthusiasm and joy spread throughout the entire theatre with every sequence, somehow drawing from an infinite well of strength as they perform scene after scene of intense drumming. Flags on long poles are brought out and swung with gusto as drums play an infectious beat; it’s hard not to get swept up in the intensity and tap along to the steady rhythm these performers play. The members of Drum Tao also know how to pace audience members – in between the intense drumming sequences, we are given moments of respite with calming, serene flute numbers, a chance to catch our breath and appreciate just how incredible the troupe’s performance is before we’re wowed once again by a new, adrenaline-rush of a sequence.
Above all, what gels Rhythm of Tribe together is the ensemble’s unparalleled chemistry. With the immeasurable training they’ve gone through together, this ensemble is evidently completely comfortable and absolutely in sync with each other onstage, working like clockwork as they land each step, perfect each beat and hammer home the sensorial power of this contemporary drum performance. With Rhythm of Tribe, Drum Tao has convinced us of the brilliance of their art, bowling us over with the breadth of their vision and the commitment to their work. We left the theatre newly christened as fans, and we urge you to catch them the next time they’e in town if ever you’re looking for something that will leave you wowed.
Performance attended 2/3/19 (3pm)
Drum Tao 2019: Rhythm of Tribe played at the MES Theatre at Mediacorp from 1st to 3rd March 2019. For more information, visit their website here