While peddlers cry the names of performance DVDs and t-shirts outside the Staller Center for the Arts, inside the crowd bustles with excitement and energy as they eagerly await the energizing sound of beating drums.
TAO, a group known for their powerful performances that mix music and athleticism, showcased their newest act Saturday, Feb.15 at the Staller Center, simply called DRUM TAO. Led by Yuya Hayashi, the group has traveled all across the U.S. and indeed all across the world in a near-constant state of training. With shows sometimes only a day apart, this group stays active and alert 24/7, working around the clock to prepare and run their own performance.
While the Staller Center offers its stage space and staff, TAO’s performers are expected to pitch in their own labor. Performers were selling their own merchandise before, after and between shows.
Taro Harasaki, one of the top-billed performers, was able to take a break in his hectic schedule to speak to The Statesman. According to him, the process of training to become a performer includes waking up every morning at 5:30 and getting ready for a 12 kilometer-long run, before sitting down to beat a drum for one hour straight without a break.
It seems that this intense training pays off. The entirety of the performance can be judged by sheer variety and skill. TAO showcases ancient Japanese instruments like the Koto, a large wooden string instrument that lays on the ground. The audience is also able to appreciate the Shamisen, a melodic three-stringed guitar seen throughout the acts of the night. The show also featured a glow in the dark LED suit performance, a drumline replicating Newton’s cradle, hoverboard drumming and plenty more that is unique to their more modern acts. Short funny skits and soft melodic intermissions broke up fantastic displays of skill and force all while the audience’s seats reverberated from the steady beat of drums.
Taiko Tides, Stony Brook University’s very own taiko drumming group, was present at the event in the audience. Max Sun, a senior marine vertebrate biology major at Stony Brook and member of the Taiko Tides, said that he found the performance exciting and dynamic.
“My favorite part I think tends to be the traditional drumming. So there’s a scene we call Yoshida Yudaku,” said Sun. The scene in question is a Japanese classic, depicting the walk of a beautiful and renowned courtesan. Learning the routine has been an aspiration of Sun’s, “I’m learning all these like drills like cool stances and posing; it’s awesome.”
Taiko drumming has been an integral part of Japanese culture since as early as the sixth century when it was used for anything from religious rites to inspiring and even directing troops in battle. While taiko drumming may have fallen into the background of modern-day Japan, being used only for rare ceremonial events, TAO is bringing a new life and energy to the ancient art. Inspired by the performances of Cirque du Soleil, Ikuo Fujitaka — the founder of TAO — has said that his goal is to create a similar act steeped in Japanese culture. While the man himself rarely leaves his operations in Japan, his impact on the world is undeniable with his troupes visiting over 500 cities with over eight million spectators according to the TAO website.
TAO is an experience like no other, and with their track record of performance locations and frequency of touring, one can hope Stony Brook will be greeted by them again soon.