The building trembled with energy as sound bursted to life within its walls. Rolling, rumbling music would be used as a weapon just as much as a toy — bouncing like a tangible object across the taut heads of traditional taiko drums.
Tao, a drumming and dance troupe from Japan, finished its North American tour at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) Monday night. The ensemble’s “Seventeen Samurai” performance melded traditional and contemporary influences to create something unique.
The Japanese drums have been around for hundreds of years. But organized taiko drumming ensembles — known as kumi-daiko — are relatively new, with early performances starting around the 1950s, according to taiko website Rolling Thunder.
Tao was first put together in 1993, and since then has risen in popularity — recently performing on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in early February.
The troupe incorporates martial arts and dancing that emphasize the sharp beating of the drums. And they utilize a host of musical instruments including a bamboo marimba; gongs; a Japanese flute, known as a shinobue; and a horizontal harp, known as a koto.
The overall performance didn’t appear to have any strict, overlining narrative, but instead pulled together a series of vignettes that ranged in theme dramatically between each number with some recurring characters peppered throughout the show.
Sound would sometimes become a ball — springing between smaller hand drums and paddles playfully. Members dressed in royal blues would dart across the stage to catch the sound that had been lobbed into the air by a fellow castmate, going steadily faster until the percussion of it was snapping through the room like the sound of running feet pounding on the ground.
And just as quickly, the sound would become a growling and ornery thing that rose up in volume from massive barrel drums. Draping black costumes swirled around performers. And the pounding of the drums only would become faster and sharper until it filled the room with violent, ceaseless booms — only to be broken by the soft fluttering of a flute or the stinging snap of a bo staff to the ground.
The continuous juxtaposition between tongue-in-cheek numbers wrapped in hues of purple, green and blue, and thunderous ones cast under heavy red lights, kept the audience tensed and eager to keep up.
The night finished with multiple standing ovations that filled the building with a percussion that was maybe less practiced, but just as energetic.