When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Granada Theatre
Tickets are $35-65, general, UCSB Students, $19.
Information: 893-3535, https://artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu
When it comes to the ancient art of Japanese taiko drumming, all roads and global references tend to lead to one simple word: Kodo. The taiko company has come to represent the art form through exhaustive international touring (including shows in Santa Barbara, where it returns on Saturday, at the Granada Theatre) and generally mastered the intricate, ritual, visceral and tightly choreographed drum-based performances.
Kodo is known to appeal to aficionados and casual listeners-viewers alike and the “viewer” aspect is critical, for a group incorporating elements of dance, fastidious integration of parts and theater. Saturday’s Granada performance comes with special attributes attached, as part of the program dubbed “One Earth Tour 2019: Evolution,” created by Kodo director Tamasaburo Bando and specially created to honor the troupe’s 35th anniversary year, in 2016.
Kodo, which translates to “Children of the Drums,” has rooted itself on the idyllic, small Sado Island, in the Japan Sea, with a population of 63,000 people. The island’s cultural riches are also reflected in the dense presence of the traditional ceremonial “noh” theater tradition. The company has created a Kodo compound called Kodo Mura (Kodo Village), replete with an office building, rehearsal hall, dormitory, guest house, visitor center and recording studio.
Longtime Kodo member Mitsuru Ishizuka is a “child of the drums” who began studying and performing as a young child, and he explained the primal attraction to the art form in an interview with the Japan Times. “To be frank,” he explained, “the biggest charm of wadaiko (another term for taiko) is that it’s not necessary to study complicated theory to play. If you just beat a drum, it comes out as some kind of music. Also, players can feel the sound physically through vibrations — through their bodies, not with their brains. That is a great experience, and I love it — so that’s why I chose this occupation.”
In its current state, Kodo has transformed and evolved (hence, the show title “Evolution”) under the direction of Mr. Bando, a reigning kabuki actor in the mode of the female-role custom of the “onnagata.” First invited to collaborate with Kodo in 2003 as director, he went on to ask the troupe to perform in his musical-dance work “Amaterasu” in 2006.
As of 2012, he became Kodo’s official director, and began garnering accolades internationally, including Japan’s Intangible Cultural Property Holder (Living National Treasure) and France’s Order of Arts and Letters, Commander. As commander of Kodo, Mr. Bando has created various programs, up through “Evolution,” in which the troupe spans older favorites such as “O-daiko” and “Monochrome” and newer pieces “Kusa-wake” and “Color.” Finding a resonance between older, established work and forward-leaning new projects has translated into a more progressive, and potentially more widely accessible, mode of operations within the taiko tradition.
Mr. Ishizuka commented that “Tamasaburo brought a new way of thinking to us. Kodo used to be all about traditional Japanese taiko and folk art, and we were reluctant to accept Western rhythms or dance. But he was fearless in introducing new things we’d never done before — so now we are ready to try anything he suggests.
“In the end, though, I’d like to think that both traditional and innovative styles will be strong points of Kodo going forward — and I hope this helps us appeal more to younger people who normally only listen to J-pop.”