12 March 2019 (released)
19 March 2019
Japanese drumming troupe Yamato’s latest show, Passion, has landed with a bang in London. The 14 dedicated performers all hail from the same village of Asuka in Japan, and since forming in 1993 have performed their unique brand of Taiko drumming to almost 8 million people in 54 countries.
Taiko drumming - an ancient artform still heard at Shinto rituals across Japan –is given a modern reboot through a combination of outstanding set design, lighting and choreography that complement the staggering sound these gargantuan drums make.
The group use a host of instruments; from the more delicate bamboo flutes and shamisen – a three stringed traditional Japanese guitar – to the earth-shaking Odaiko drums, which weigh a hefty half tonne each, and require a physicality and energy to play that befits the show’s name.
However, it’s not all incessant banging and thumping (although, make no mistake, there is plenty of that). The show is also peppered with lighter moments that give it artistic range and remind us that, despite the almighty, sky-splitting racket that’s being made, the world isn’t about to end after all.
At one point two performers go head-to-head in a ‘drum off’; a slapstick battle of beats that starts preposterously slowly but rapidly escalates as increasingly large drums are wheeled out - a kind of arms race that sends ripples of delight through the audience.
Perhaps my favourite routine was one where the performers play a version of ‘catch’ with a beat that’s passed around and played on miniature cymbals, like a phantom spirit that needs to be quelled. It felt like a high-point of the night, the troupe’s finest qualities – musicality, humour, physical prowess and agility – coming together to produce something truly out of the ordinary.
As Yamato’s Artist Director, Masa Ogawa, says in his programme notes: ‘we are committed to preserving [Taiko’s] traditions and exploring new possibilities for this majestic instrument’. This ethos of marrying old and new, of respecting the past and its traditions while not being constrained by them, is what gives the show it’s heart. It means that, despite taking their art very seriously, the performers are still able to laugh at themselves and have a good time with the audience. And it’s this sense of playfulness and warmth that stayed with me long after the final drum was hit.