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The Beauty of Eight

Taikoz present THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, in the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale, Sydney. 23 -24 October, 2015.

It has been a while since I have attended a performance given by TAIKOZ, a group of Australian artists dedicated to the Japanese tradition of drumming, practising ‘Kumi-daiko’: a performance characterised by an ensemble playing on different drums and other percussive instruments. TAIKOZ was founded in 1997 by Ian Cleworth and Riley Lee.

THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT is a new work of three parts: Eternal Silence; Our Horizon and The White Bird, featuring a guest artist, Chieko Kojima, a member of the Kodo ensemble (which is where Riley Lee, first encountered her, whilst, too, a member of that ensemble) and her own female song-and-dance trio, Hanayui. The title,THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, refers to the mesmerising shapes and movements that are synonymous with Chieko Kojima’s Onna-ouchi [women’s side-on] style of taiko playing. This drumming combined with her background in folk dance embroiders a seduction which is a visual embodiment of flow, round-ness, grace and power. In this performance the ‘dance’ is made with the double sided drum being struck with a partner, Ian Clemworth, in the style known as Hachijo-daiko, although Ms Kojima features as a dancer throughout the whole program.

The thrust stage of the York Theatre in the Seymour Centre, with the auditorium’s steeply raked seating, is an ideal space for this company to be seen and enjoyed. The lay-out of the instruments, the 5 impressively large drums on stands curved across the back of the stage, with other instruments, including isolated cymbals under special lighting, with a diaphanous floating framed backgound curtain and canopy, lit in cooling colours, create an atmosphere of anticipation of elegant ritual and excitement. The concert of live instruments are backed with sophisticated electronica (John Cleworth – mixed live) that prepare us for the intricately stylised entrance of the performers who co-operate with the rigour and delicacy of artists steeped in the traditions and disciplines of their music making and its ‘other’ culture origins with great respect and humility. We become witness to an ensemble of focused energy and commitment, in their bodies, that is translated to the audience with an uncluttered clarity of purpose, to guide us to attend to what is about to be given, with a kind of ‘religiosity’ of transcending ecstasy. The visual artistry of the performers is a dramatic weaving of our senses to enhance our capacity to hear the sounds of the score with an alertness of all of our own body, that necessitates a significant contribution from us as listeners – the magic ‘circle’ of attended ‘give and take’ between the artists and, we, the audience, is palpable and fearlessly strong – rewarding. One becomes joyful with/at/for the joy of the artists, who find a release of their aspirations, honed by dedicated (and private) hard-work, in the playing and the reception from an audience in a trembling joint cathartic surrender.

When Riley Lee enters for his ‘turns’ with his bamboo ‘flutes’ to play shakuhachi, one is aware that we are in the presence of a ‘master’, similarly, one is moved to believe the mastery charisma exuded with the presence and playing, by the leader of this extraordinary company, Ian Cleworth, particularly with his mesmerising and startlingly wondrous solo on drum, on the stage edge. The honour to hear and see such dedicated and miraculous playing is an astonishment. That this astonishment is created by the sheer pleasure and admired skill of all the artists: Kerryn Joyce, Kevin Mann, Anton Lock, Tom Royce-Hampton, Sophia Ang (and Ryuji Hamada), is a gift beyond the ordinary experience one can so often have in the theatre. TAIKO is surely a jewel in the treasury of creative art in Australia, an equivalent in my experiencing of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO). Both companies have ‘craftsmen’ of apparent great natural musical intuition, passion and undoubted and rare practised skill that lift them into the stratosphere of superhuman artistry. One wishes, longs, for an Australian acting company that demonstrated such dedication, humility and consistent and heightened skill.

True, for me, THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT, diminished its impression, in its third and newer work, The White Bird, but watching this newer work, built with and for the guest artist Chieko Kojima, was to see the beginnings of the possibility of a future dynamic of art through practised craft, to come.

When they next play make sure you go. It was, at my witnessing, to see and hear, a Musical Genius built from love of the form and the literal physical sweat and cost of dedicated practice. An entirely rare combination to witness in Sydney theatre going from an Australian company, in my recent history.