YAMATO The Drummers of Japan
Roslyn Packer Theatre
Reviewed on 16th September 2017
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Having spoken at hundreds of conferences and conventions, I’ve seen many drumming sessions and they’re usually interesting for three or four minutes, so how will I be in a drum performance that lasts two hours?
YAMATO The Drummers of Japan, in the world tour of its latest show, The Challengers, comprises of seven extremely talented, passionate and energetic performers that mercilessly attack various-sized Taiko drums which are used in Shinto rituals and came from China in the 6th century.
In feudal Japan, Taiko were often used to motivate troops, call out orders or announcements and set a marching pace. During the 16th century Warring States period, specific drum calls were used to communicate orders for retreating and advancing. According to the war chronicle Gunji Yoshū, nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times, was the call to advance and pursue an enemy. A 16th century Emperor used a gigantic Taiko to both encourage his own army and intimidate his enemies.
The show opens with all performers displaying bewildering sychronisation, which carries through the entire performance. There’s a fascinating and engaging three-person routine that involves small, Japanese cymbals and another that introduces the shamisen, a three-stringed, traditional Japanese instrument.
But the Taiko are the stars of the show, sending waves of energy throughout the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Duelling drums provide the theme for The Challengers. At times I was reminded of Bombora, the 1960s surfing hit by The Atlantics, at others, it sounded like thunder in a massive storm and I wondered what YAMATO’s version of Ravel’s Bolero would be like.
Under Artistic Director, Masa Ogawa, YAMATO, which began in 1993, has performed in 53 countries and no translations are necessary; the powerful drum beats are universal.
To claim that all of the performers execute with gusto and unrivalled enthusiasm would be an understatement; each of them looks like they’re enjoying the best time they’ve ever had.
The rhythms, the skill, the martial arts influence, the discipline, the intensity, the energy and the assault on the senses make for a thrilling and uplifting experience.
So does it hold you for two hours? Try NOT to be engaged. I dare you.