Based on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, KODO is known for elevating Japanese folk arts to a contemporary expression that captivates audiences around the world. Their performances, numbering in the thousands, have graced stages in every corner of the globe, leaving an indelible mark on the international music scene. From the time of the group’s inception to the present day, the eyes of the world have been on this intrepid ensemble. Their style is both revered and emulated by artists across multiple genres worldwide. Now in 2011, 30 years after the group first took to the stage at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodo embarks on a momentous journey, traveling first to America, then across their native Japan, and finally into Europe for a year that promises to be a crowning jewel on their 30-year odyssey.
Artistic Director Mitsuru Ishizuka found his inspiration for this touchstone tour in the Kodo Rehearsal Hall, a pivotal part of Kodo Village. The Rehearsal Hall is the bedrock of creation for Kodo performances and the starting point for the group’s vigorous training program. Ishizuka designed this show to capture the atmosphere of this very special place — the enthusiasm, tension, stillness, breath, and fellowship felt between taiko and human being in this hallowed hall.
“The taiko clustered together on the stage, while based on the layout of the Rehearsal Hall, also conjures the scene of a Japanese shrine surrounded by large sacred trees,” explains Ishizuka. “People gather at a shrine to sing, dance, and drum so that their prayers may reach the heavens. In this same way, all of us at Kodo gather in our rehearsal hall and on stage day after day, singing, dancing, and playing the drum, in hopes that the sound of the taiko will reach as many people as possible.”
The ten-piece program features three new works that will make their North American premiere, as well as classic compositions from the Kodo repertoire that have earned the group an avid following across the globe. Among the new compositions, Sakaki opens the program with a male solo dance inspired by an age-old Shinto ceremony. This somber piece is the proverbial calm before the taiko storm and also acts as a kind of purification ceremony for the theater. Another new addition to the Kodo repertoire is Stride, written by artistic director Mitsuru Ishizuka and designed to make use of all of the drums in the group’s arsenal. This piece speaks of the “strides” Kodo has taken to date and the journeys that lay ahead as could only be portrayed through the youthful vigor of our next-generation performers. In contrast, Kodo member Shogo Yoshii found his inspiration for Sora through the group’s recent cross-genre collaborations that include contemporary dance and flamenco. This uplifting, rhythmical composition features the 3-stringed kokyu and Japanese flute, at once showcasing the influences of the music Kodo has encountered in their travels and capturing the aspirations of the group as it enters a new epoch.
Additional highlights include Monochrome, composed by modern master composer Maki Ishii. Conceived in the ’70s, this timeless masterpiece instantly redefined the boundaries of the taiko as an art form, and its influence on the genre continues to be profound. A most unique Kodo composition, Jang-Gwara captures the versatility and levity of jangara cymbals as the players weave beautifully choreographed rhythms throughout this vibrant soundscape. Also included are traditional folk arts from around Japan that Kodo has arranged for the stage, such as the universal crowd-pleasers O-daiko, Miyake, and Yatai-bayashi. Together, these multifaceted pieces create an enthralling program of taiko, song, and dance that delivers the complete Kodo experience.
As Kodo celebrates its 30th anniversary, the 2011 One Earth Tour highlights a new generation of young performers who will carry the group’s traditions into the future. The seamless changes from piece to piece are a carefully choreographed part of the performance, designed to make the entire show a single experience rather than a collection of separate songs. Audience members are invited to give themselves over to the flow of the program and be fully present as each blissful moment ensues and the sound of the taiko reverberates through their very beings.
For thirty years, KODO has explored the boundless potential of the ancient Japanese drum, the taiko. Inspired by the powerful natural beauty of its home on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, Kodo infuses traditional forms with fresh global influences to create new musical expressions that are utterly unique.
Two meanings are embedded in the Japanese characters for Kodo. First, heartbeat: the primal, tender sound as heard in the womb. Second, children of the drum: reflecting Kodo’s intent to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child.
Since 1981, Kodo has delivered over 3,300 performances in 46 countries, becoming Japan’s most acclaimed performing arts group.