Concert Review: San Jose Taiko at the Mayer Theater

March 23, 1997

San Jose Taiko held their annual Rhythm Spirit concerts this weekend at the Mayer Theater in Santa Clara, CA. There were full performances Friday and Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon. A Family performance was held on Saturday afternoon. I had the opportunity to see two of the regular performances, and as usual, San Jose put on a great show. The auditorium was almost completely filled for both shows.

The Rhythm Spirit concerts are where San Jose gets to "present new compositions, new members, and new staging ideas." Along with their usual polished presentation of old favorites, these concerts allow San Jose to perform new pieces that are a little raw and rough around the edges.

The program was broken into two segment, with a different feel to them. The first half of the show opened onto a stage strewn with various taiko and props such as a measuring tape and a bare bulb lamp. The stage was open on the right so you could see all the way to the back wall. The effect was as if we caught San Jose about twenty minutes before showtime when everything was yet to be put in place. The program guide mentioned how San Jose invites you "to experience how a production evolves into place and how the magic begins to transform the stage." Keeping with this, the movement of drums on and off the stage was done very deliberately in full view of the audience.

The Second half had a theme of "Village Rhythm Cycles" which showed the influence of the recent Warabiza residency San Jose Taiko enjoyed. The folk dance influence was particularly evident, and San Jose was able to blend it in with the drumming nicely. The pieces moved from one to the other with a nice ebb and flow, which was to emulate the rhythms of village life.

One constant crossing both halves was a two story tower of scaffolding which contained a collection of drums, gongs and other instruments. Roy Hirabayashi would often play flute from the upper portion, and played two interludes in the first half of the show with Karen Morita in the bottom portion. The effect was a nice fill when the performers were setting up for a new piece. However, when they entered and exited the tower, it was pretty evident due to the strong colored backlighting, and was a little distracting.

San Jose uses these concerts to debut new pieces, and there where two this year. PJ Hirabayashi has work in progress using small okedo drums slung from the shoulder. A little rough, with the drummers not quite on, but the movement of the drummers and the interplay with the chappa player is interesting. Also new was an Odaiko piece by Kevin Mukai. Kane backs the slowly building Odaiko solo which suggests "the crashing sounds of the sea."

There were also some interesting personnel changes. San Jose's new members were on stage, albeit in periferal roles. Notably absent was Anna Lin, who has resigned from the Artist Staff of San Jose Taiko to pursue other projects. Roy Hirabayashi put down his flute to play some taiko for these concerts, and though he looked just a touch rusty during Oedo Bayashi, it was a lot of fun to see him playing and soloing.

Mixing a lot of tried and true material with new works and new approaches, San Jose gives a nice glimpse of where they have been and where they are going. Appropriate for a group which is preparing for its 25th anniversary next year.

David Leong David Leong
Rolling Thunder

Disclaimer: David was a member of San Jose Taiko's audition process class at the time this review was written.

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