Tuesday, October 16, 2012


at the Civic Theatre

Drums are a reliable crowd-pleaser and rabble-rouser – think of this year's Olympic entertainments.

The Taiko tradition is kept alive in Scotland by the stupendous Mugenkyo Company, back at the Civic on their latest nationwide tour.

It's an impressive cross-cultural experience, very theatrical, with atmospheric lighting and choreography and a strong sense of ritual – kendo meets kabuki. The repertoire is a canny mix of traditional and modern. The drumming is thrillingly precise, a dazzling display of split-second synchronicity that never ceases to amaze. Four players sharing three drums, two players attacking either end of the huge odaiko, and the thrilling crescendo in "Todoroki", where the building shook in rhythm with the thunderous hoofbeats.

"Is there music as well, or is it just drums ?" wondered the woman behind us. The token Oriental in the company, New York-based Nobuko Miyazaki, played flutes both Western and bamboo, often blending with the percussion, but also a welcome sorbet between bouts of drumming. Chanting, temple bells, rainsticks and cymbals all created a very Japanese ambience; less authentic perhaps were the moments of humour – the handheld drums, like giant ping-pong bats – and the very Western desire to get the audience involved.

Mugenkyo are perfectionists, and passionate about what they do. Their enthusiasm is contagious, but it is their musicianship and stagecraft that leave a lasting impression.

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