Marching to their own beat

Japanese drum company performs at Center For the Arts

The Spectrum

The Center For the Arts is a hub for storytelling.Some groups share their stories through song and theater - others like to tell tales of Japanese origin through explosive displays of percussion and choreography.

On Tuesday night, TAO: Phoenix Rising performed for a packed audience at UB's Center For the Arts (CFA). The Japanese-Taiko style drumming and dance troupe travels the world performing for various audiences with their shows, which consist of dance, drumming, flutes and string instruments like the Shamisen and Koto.

Whether it was about a beautiful woman in the forest accompanied by calm and pleasant music or the excitement of a party with performers' loud percussion and chants, each story the group performed took on its own personality.

"I really enjoy this kind of music, and it's not easy to find in Buffalo," said Kirsten Reitan, an English as a Second Language program faculty member. "Very rarely does it come through this area, but whenever Japanese-culture music does, I make an effort to see the performance. It was well worth it."

Prior to the show, two members of the troupe played "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with members of the audience. After giving prizes to winners, the friendly performers came into the crowd to play and talk with more people. Their friendly demeanor made the audience feel comfortable and prepared them for the show they were about to experience.

But just as the crowd settled down and reached a peaceful quiet, two drummers in the center of the stage nodded toward each other and the stage became alive with the striking of percussion, the singing of flutes and the unleashed passion of the performers.

Members of the troupe dressed in intricate costumes, which were mostly black and white with an occasional accent of red or yellow.

Not only was the audience enthralled with the clothing and skill behind the drumming, but also with the group's instruments, dancing and choreography.

Taiko performances have a specific rhythm, stick grip and instrumentation that creates a sound ideal for storytelling. The performance style has a mythological origin, meaning many of the stories the group tells have been passed down for centuries.

The performers mostly used percussion, but often played tiny cymbals and string instruments like the Shamisen and Koto. With the sounds these instruments made, the performers created a comedy act, similar to clowns at a circus. The audience roared with laughter as a performer "missed the ball" that was thrown using cymbals, or as the guitarists fought over the front of the stage.

Though some acts were comedic, others were intended to demonstrate the strength and physical capabilities of the performers. In one act, performers were forced to complete perpetual sit-ups as they sat in front of the large drum. Others demonstrated their abilities by twirling sticks and completing fight-style sequences. Some performers carried large drums, strapping the instruments to their bodies and marching while striking them.

"My sister saw that the show was coming to the CFA and convinced me to come with her," said Kristin Thomas, a senior theater major. "Why not? It's Tuesday. There's not a lot to do, why not see the show? It was definitely worth it. I'm glad we came out to see it."

For performers like Taro Harasaki, a Shamisen player, his favorite part of the show is playing his instrument.

"When it's only a couple people on stage - just us messing with each other and the guitars - it's so much fun," he said. "I feel lucky to be performing on stage."

The company moves to Providence, Rhode Island to perform its next show on March 27. The group will remain in the United States until mid-May and then continue its worldwide adventure.

The next show at the CFA is Bowfire Saturday at 8 p.m.