Last night the New Theatre (and I imagine much of George Street) resonated to the wonderful thrumming rhythms of an exhilarating performance of taiko drumming by the Yamato Drummers. Their multi-faceted, multi-tasking, multi-talented performance encompassed the deep and ancient traditions of taiko drumming in the first half of their performance and in the second their fluorescent costumes and the drumsticks swirled with shades of techno effervescence to bring their show bang up to date.
Throughout the performance the drumming was augmented by a range of traditional instruments including the flute and Japanese guitar, but undoubtedly the stars of the show were the drums: from the small shime-daiko, through the mid-sized chu-diako, to the larger o-daiko and beyond. The fluency with which the bachi (drum sticks) whirled, swirled and eddied to produce subtle and sensitive rhythms and then momentous, chest-vibrating, cacophonies of sound was both moving and stirring.
Each performer clearly had great mastery of the medium as well as great physical strength and precision and the group obviously took great joy in their performance and in entertaining the audience. The demanding physical choreography of the performance was delivered with ease even though at one point several of the drummers were called upon to maintain their rhythmic playing whilst performing crunches! As well as great physical prowess and control throughout the act the troupe showed great humour and engagement with the audience. This was evidenced in the second half of the show which began with a solitary drummer playing the chappa cymbals to gales of laughter which fulminated as other members of the group on chappas joined in. Audience participation culminated in a rousing encore in which the audience's clapping, stamping and cheering formed yet another instrument for the Yamato drummers to exploit to great effect.
Surprisingly, for what was essentially a percussive performance, there were significant elements of harmony and melody throughout the evening – subtle sparring between different drums and drummers highlighted the merits of each particular instrument and the flute playing brought silvery counter-points to some of the bass tones of the larger drums. However, it was the combination of thrash Japanese guitar-playing accompanied by insistent and complementary drumming which was a particularly effective and exuberant combination.
As well as physical prowess and percussive precision each performer's personality was slowly revealed through the rhythms of their drumming, their dancing and flowing body language when wielding their drums, their ability to brandish their bachi with fluidity, and their humorous interaction with the audience. This was an energising and exhilarating performance and by the end of an evening of driving rhythms and exuberant drumming and dancing it was unclear who was having more fun - the audience or the Yamato drummers! By the end of the performance the drummers deservedly received a standing ovation from an audience who were by then enchanted by and embroiled in the rhythms of taiko.