Posted on: March 24, 2024 Posted by: Waverly O'Malley Comments: 0

Photo provided by Tao Drum

On Saturday, March 9, Moraine Valley welcomed the Drum Tao performance group to the Dorothy Menker Theater. Drum Tao is a Japanese percussion troupe specializing in taiko drums, a kind of traditional Japanese drums. The group utilizes not only percussion, but also the Japanese shinobue (flute), koto (harp), and syamisen (guitar), in their performances, adding a not insignificant amount of gymnastics, dance, and audience engagement. They have performed in more than 26 countries for over 30 years. 

The thing that first struck me during the percussionists’ Moraine Valley debut was the presentation. Every outfit and instrument was clad in black, white, or silver, with the occasional red as an accent. It made certain aspects of the performance pop, such as the large bass drum in the center of the stage. In addition, every outfit was positively stunning, glossy and lavish while being malleable and breathable. They accomplished a remarkable mix of the traditional Japanese kimono and dress, yet the modern leotard with its practicality. The lighting, achieved by Ryo Marada, Drum Tao’s lighting technician, with the aid of the Moraine Valley Fine and Performing Arts Center (FPAC), effortlessly tracked the performers across the stage and accentuated certain solos with the rare blue spotlight. 

The group’s performance was the obvious highlight of the evening. Each member looked positively thrilled to be on stage, and all were incredibly skilled at their craft. I had an excellent view of the passionate choreography and physically intimidating gymnastics. The performers took turns and worked in time to show off their incredible physical prowess, dancing with drums, doing flips, and using staffs in their movements. Their work was obviously taxing on the body, and after each set, I could see the percussionists breathing heavily during the short break. Each beat of every drum was synced perfectly with the choreography, including footwork, spins, jumps, and flips. The show also ensured that each player got their moment in the spotlight, where they would become the center of attention and play a solo for the crowd. 

The music was what truly made my experience with Drum Tao. An intricate blend of traditional Japanese and modern music, similar to the outfits, created a wholly unique and fascinating listening experience. This was particularly noticeable toward the finale, in which a shinobue (a historic Japanese flute), played in harmony with a present-day synth. The percussion instruments took quite a beating during the show, each part of them being fully utilized, including their rims, bottoms, and sides. The large red bass drum at the back of the stage took a particularly brutal thrashing, much of the red paint being chipped off the center. The non-drum percussion played an essential role during the show, with woodblocks and cymbals keeping beat and adding to the ensemble, but never overwhelming the experience with racket. The hi-hats consistently amplified the performance with sharp and sudden beats, a welcome surprise every time it returned to the stage. In the common instances of the shinobue appearing and presenting a solo, the flautist positively stole the stage, playing with astonishing skill with long notes that even the most skilled of players would struggle to hold sitting, much less after doing front flips. When rare vocalizations graced the music, their inventive yet haunting presence complimented the harsher cymbals and deeper drums excellently. 

All in all, the performances of Drum Tao exceeded all of my expectations and made the evening well spent. The presentation, stage presence, and music worked in much the same perfect tandem as the drums, providing an outstanding experience for all audiences. Whether percussionists or casual listeners, the show had something for everyone, including endless entertainment. I do not doubt that in the future, Drum Tao as well as the FPAC, will continue the successes on display.

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