Two jesters walk onstage in front of the curtain. One claps a beat on a clave, arcing it up and over, where the other catches it on his clave. They toss the beat back and forth like that—building to a drum roll that opens the curtain on the rest of Drum TAO.
Shaded in stark lighting and bright colors, TAO’s Drum Heart premiered at NYU’s Skirball Center on February 11, marking the company’s first foray into a full evening’s story through taiko drumming and dance. The production, directed by Amon Miyamoto, tells a beautiful story, simple and elegant. The whole thing is designed with detail and imagery in mind; even the supertitles introducing the story are imbued with a fantastical lyrical quality.
A young boy, played by a puppet that, while slightly off-putting, was masterfully operated by two, sometimes three, performers loses his parents in a tragic natural disaster, and is taken in by a brave drummer and warrior, who teaches the boy not only to drum, but to be a man. The boy’s mentor, played by Takuya Era, was the most impressive of the troupe. Between his drumming skill, clear martial arts background, and acting chops, he was truly the embodiment of a performance powerhouse. Not to mention the fact that he and the rest of the artists performed an incredibly high energy and physically demanding show for nearly two and a half hours. All of the dancers fly through the air, flipping and twisting with swords and sticks and flags, while equally athletic drummers beat a thunderous, deep heartbeat out into the crowd. They leap and lunge to hit two, three, four drums at once. All of it exactly identical and exactly in sync.
Taiko drumming is, in itself, a study in precision, and Drum Heart is no exception. The intricate choreography and delicate music combined with dynamic lighting to create a full length performance that really was a tribute to perfect timing.
The evening had everything: magic, tragedy, lightness, humor, and even a shout-out to the previous night’s performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. To bring it all together, the evening closed on a glittering celebration of community and culture. Drum Heart is an experience to be had.