Finding Inspiration in Unusual Places: Japanese Taiko Drumming & Yamato’s Passion

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I’m a big advocate of watching live dance performances as often as possible. As a dance student or dance artist, it’s really important to stay inspired. Whilst watching performances on YouTube etc. is a great way to do that, nothing can compare to watching dance live, and feeling the energy of the performers on the stage.

I’m also an advocate of experiencing other art forms as a source of inspiration. I’m training to be a ballet dancer, and I love going to watch the ballet- that’s obviously a hugely inspiring activity for me. However, I also love watching performances in all dance styles. Performances that have really inspired me have included a variety of different styles of contemporary dance, flamenco (amazing to watch live!), hip hop and physical theatre.

I believe that, in order to be well-rounded artists (and human beings), we should take that further by looking outside of dance altogether, to experience many kinds of art. You can find inspiration by visiting art galleries and museums; music concerts; photography exhibitions; even people-watching in a busy place can be so inspiring if you go about it with that intention. I feel that, as a performer, watching performance arts is the most beneficial for me. I love seeing how performers use different methods to portray what they are trying to communicate, and how they connect with their audience. That’s why when the Sadler’s Wells team invited me to an exclusive Taiko drumming event and performance, I jumped at the opportunity to experience something completely new.

This is not the kind of thing I would ever book tickets for- that’s what I really want to communicate, because I think that if you get the chance, you should go out of your way to experience this art form! I was surprised at just how enthralling it was and how inspired I felt by watching and experiencing it!

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Last week, I went along to The Peacock Theatre (Sadler’s Wells’ sister venue in the West End) for this exclusive Taiko drumming workshop and performance by Yamato, a troupe of drummers from Japan. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from the audience reactions I’d seen, I knew that it was promised to be a thrilling experience. I brought along my boyfriend Jake, who loves air-drumming to music, as I thought he could put that talent to good use!

The invited guests were led to the stage and introduced to some of the members of Yamato. One of the drummers, Jun, told us about the traditions of Taiko drumming, an art form practiced in Japan since the 6th Century, and showed us all of the different wadaiko (Japanese drums). They ranged from small, heavy drums that can be carried around the stage and are used for training the strength of the drummers, to larger barrel-like drums made from entire trees. The largest was made from an enormous hollowed 400-year old tree, and made a very deep, reverberating sound. The performers told us about their lifestyle as Taiko drummers. The Yamato troupe hails from Japan’s Nara Prefecture, but they tour around the world for 6-10 months each year, and the members all live and train together. Their high-energy performances are so intense that they need to train to be in peak physical condition, and start each day with a 10km run before rehearsals.

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Then, we were given a demonstration on how to play the wadaiko- and I understood the need for such intense physical training! Yes, it is possible to strike the drum with a minimum amount of energy. However, Jun explained that this was not the proper way to play. Taiko drumming involves putting all of your energy into playing the wadaiko- they showed us how it was really done, with maximum energy and shouting! It was very impressive. We got to give it a go ourselves. I’m not sure us reserved Brits quite matched their ferocious energy, but it was really fun all the same! The members of Yamato taught us a rhythm which we practiced and then played in a kind of mini-performance. Afterwards, we had a chance to ask questions and have a go at hitting all of the different drums, including the gigantic one, with a stick that was like a baseball bat!

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After the workshop, the drummers went to prepare for their performance whilst we enjoyed a drink and got excited about what was next! I was really impressed with the performers’ clear passion for their art, and dedication to their training. However I was about to be a lot more impressed!

From the moment we took our seats, I felt an exhilarating energy from the performers on stage. It was so palpable. Sitting in the audience, you can feel the rhythm of the drum reverberating through your entire body. The performance began with choreographed movements using paper lanterns, a calm soundtrack playing in the background. Then the performers moved around the stage hitting the drums with increasing speed and vigour, even circling around a group of several drums and hitting them in turn between an impressive series of barrel jumps, keeping in perfect rhythm. It was soon clear that although I had been impressed during the workshop, the performers had only showed us a fraction of what they were capable of. Their speed and accuracy was superhuman, and their energy on stage was like nothing else I have experienced. The members even played other traditional Japanese instruments and sang.

By the time the interval came around, everyone was smiling from ear to ear. There’s something about watching these guys that gives you such an endorphin rush- the pounding rhythms have a primal energy that seems impossible not to enjoy, and you can see just how much they love what they do. What I noticed was how they always made eye contact with one another, and they seemed to move, breathe, and think as one. That’s something that any group performers could benefit from seeing. It was amazing. What’s more, they were always grinning with such pure joy from what they were doing that it was impossible not to get swept along in their enthusiasm.

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After the interval, we were treated to an amazing show of strength in which several of the male performers sat with their backs to the audience on the very edge of a platform, in front of large drums that had been turned on to their sides. This meant that they had to hook their feet behind the drums, and lean back over thin air to play. They interspersed this with lots of lying straight back and sitting back up to show off their impressive strength as they played! They did all of this topless, which gained some appreciative whoops from the audience! Afterwards they were so exhausted Jun nearly fell off the stage! It was extremely impressive. There were also a lot of moments of real humour cleverly worked into the performance, and interaction with the audience. I usually hate when I’m expected to participate in things, but by the end of the night, every single person in the audience was joining in clapping rhythms, and giving multiple standing ovations. After the performance, I felt invigorated, inspired and uplifted. It was the ultimate endorphin rush, and a lot more useful in inspiring my dance practice than I would have expected.

Here’s what I’m taking away from this performance as a dancer:

  1.  When you really love what you do, the audience can feel it. Show your passion and that you’re having a great time (where appropriate of course, maybe not grinning if you’re in the corps of Giselle, but you get the idea)
  2.  If you can achieve oneness with everyone on the stage, you can create magic. Learn to move and breathe as one, and you can accomplish what looks to the outside to be impossible.
  3. Eye contact- interact with the other performers on stage, and you’ll all stay on the same page.
  4. Put all of your energy into what you do!

 

I think it’s so appropriate that Yamato’s current show is called Passion. That’s something that’s very clear in everything that they do, and something you can truly feel as an audience member.

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Yamato are performing Passion at The Peacock Theatre in London until 31st March. If you’re in need of a little inspiration and a very effective pick-me-up (also just a really good night out), I urge you to go and see it! If you’re outside of the UK, check out Yamato’s website for upcoming tour dates.

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Book tickets at The Peacock through the Sadler’s Wells website by clicking here. Tickets start at just £15!

See upcoming tour dates & read more about Yamato on their website by clicking here.

See my Instagram story highlights for more behind the scenes footage by clicking here.

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