ARC Program Notes

In ARC our intention is to bring together two very different drumming traditions of tabla from North India and taiko from Japan.  We sought to find choreographer/dancers whose artistry would include a responsive sensitivity subtle enough yet expansive enough in order to interpret the enormous dynamic and physical range of the arc between these two poles.

We also see a second relational graph producing an arc between the electrodes of tabla and the dance/movement with taiko—an art form comprising both drumming and choreographed full-body movement in equal parts—as the resultant voltage that will illuminate the relationship between the three components.

We hope for exploration as well as reconciliation of these disparate disciplines.  Thundering taiko drums will offer a dynamic contrast to the quieter, complex rhythms of tabla; and as the taiko drummers explore a complex personal kinesphere with the space and volume of their drums, dancers will seek out sonic spaces and the rhythms that define them.

While tabla drums—played as a pair—are now played all over India, these drums are traditionally found in the north of India.  The two drums typically produce as many as twelve distinct sounds and the rhythm cycles can consist of over one-hundred beats.  All rhythmic phrases can be spoken as recitative as can rhythms of Taiko. Tabla often accompanies dance traditionally and today.  The dancers too recite these rhythmic syllables as part of the process of choreographing, teaching, and performing.

Taiko—a term that means ‘fat or big drum’—have traditionally been played for folk festivals and religious rituals in temples, shrines and in sacred forest sites.  Stimulated by massive economic growth of postwar Japan and its concomitant move of large populations to the cities, these urban communities soon developed a nostalgic interest in rural traditions and values and ultimately in their efficacy for the revitalization of their home village communities.  Also, in response to the notion of the Japanese community that the incessant intrusion of the modern was a product of Western enlightened reason, new forms of artistic expression were born. These forms often reflecting traditional source, but in opposition to customary decorative art, sought to express in a diverse and experimental manner a search for post-war identity.

The development of contemporary Taiko has played a role in this search.  In 1971 Den Tagayasu created Ondekoza, the first group that would take taiko from traditional performance sites to international concert stages. The name means ‘demon drumming’—derived from ‘Ondeko’,  a demon drum-dance invocation for a successful harvest or fish catch. Den Tagayasu describes Ondeko as having a contagious, spiritual, shamanistic power found in Shinto ritual.

‘Ondekoza’ refers both to ‘demon dancers’ or ‘artisans’ and is also present in ARC’s culminating section which features references to the demon-sword dance Oni Kenbai, originally a danced offering in order to comfort ancestral spirits, and later, provide inspiration and courage for soldiers before or after battle.  While Oni Kenbai consists of rhythms from the distant past, our performance will incorporate the rhythmic framework of the classical Indian tehai creating an expectant, forward momentum for both dancers and drummers. Our hope is our Oni Kenbai, as well as the full ARC performance, will not only provide comfort to our ancestors, but engagement and inspiration to all in our audience.

Professor Kim Arrow