Monday, February 20, 2012

"TAO: The Art of the Drum"

presented by Stanford Lively Arts
Memorial Auditorium, Stanford, CA
February 14, 2012

This season, Stanford Lively Arts planned a Valentine's Day treat for its subscribers, bringing the dynamically electric Japanese drum company, TAO, for a one-night engagement at Memorial Auditorium.  Like “Cirque du Soleil”, “River Dance” and “Stomp” before them, TAO has taken a specific individualized artform and transformed it into a total theatrical experience, merging its musical foundation with sets, costumes, and dance.  The result is a rhythmical wonderland mixed with a futuristic undercurrent and a little heavy metal edge.

As evident by their complete commitment and abandon, TAO's drumming is not simply an upper-body exercise but rather a total physical expression.  Integrated cyclical motions take over their entire body and the drums become an extension of themselves; the instrument breathing, moving and responding as they do.  The company seeks and accomplishes militaristic precision in every moment onstage and for every aspect of the production.  Their percussive prowess is met with equally impressive dance acumen: death-defying barrel rolls that were almost horizontal to the stage and a repeated saut de basque/axle jump that soared above the earth.

Alongside the large ensemble numbers were some resourceful and humorous smaller group scenes.  In one, the cast was outfitted with paddle-shaped drums and the beat became a ball that they were tossing back and forth, like a game of tennis, ping-pong or badminton.  It was a clever way to represent the notion of catching the beat and keeping it alive. 

Photo courtesy of Stanford Lively Arts
With a two-hour evening of drumming, I expected the sound to get to me after awhile.  But, for the most part, it was very pleasant.  The only section that I found audibly-challenging was the 'bricks & sticks' vignette - the particular pitch and timbre of those instruments were a little too piercing for a venue the size of Memorial Auditorium.   

The company members of TAO are consummate performers – dancers, actors and musicians all rolled into one.  As they continue to bring “The Art of the Drum” to more and more audiences during the  current US tour, I believe they will develop an even larger following than they have already captured.

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