It was two in the afternoon when I walked into Marshall auditorium, where the Taiko dancers were spending the day rehearsing until their performance. I expected to find an empty hall where I would await their return from their lunch break. Instead, I walked into a room bustling with activity and energy—the crew didn’t waste a minute that they could be spending rehearsing. Wearing sweatpants and puffy, oversized red jackets, their identical uniforms added to the calming visual of their co-ordinated, graceful movements as they warmed-up for the show. Each movement of their limbs, a professor told me, was said to represent an action or clause that contributed to a bigger story that they were telling with their bodies to the rhythm of the music. In a way, viewing this performance demanded its audience to exercise their own creativity in translating the movements of the dancers into whatever stories their minds could fathom.
Closer to the beginning of the show, as people were starting to trickle in, an old Japanese lady, dressed completely in gorgeous traditional Japanese attire walked up to me. After grabbing one for herself, she asked me if I need help arranging the programs. Before I knew it, I was immersed in a 30-minute long, inspiring conversation with her for which I will be grateful for a long time. Fumiyo moved to the US from Japan some years back and has hosted the director of the show ever since the Taiko group had began performing in the country (for 15 years now). She used to be a singer in her younger days and traveled the world in pursuit of her career; she had a whole bunch of crazy stories to tell. She met her husband on tour in Italy—he was from India (as I am!)—and we had a good laugh over how hard it was to convince her conservative family to accept him as her husband, and how this involved various trips to her more liberal relatives and even astrologers. She was strong, independent, and contagiously enthusiastic. She laughed often, loudly, and freely. Even as she told me about her husband’s passing away a few years ago, her words were punctuated with resilient laughter. I was greatly inspired, and her stories were a refreshing reminder to me to be unafraid of exploring the world.
Energized by this interaction, I stepped into the auditorium to watch the performance. As the lights brightened and the drummers appeared on stage, there was silence. A large group of men stood in stance, knees bent, heads down, with drums of various sizes positioned in front of them. As the crescendo of drumbeats began to sound, the energy in the room rose with every added drum. The beauty of their performance didn’t only come from sound but also from the way their hands moved in completely synced patterns, a synesthetic dance of sorts. The friend I was sitting with, a musician herself, was in complete awe and periodically grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard to express her. Every other audience member seemed to share her sentiments, as did I. Every time the men finished their piece, the women would glide, almost moon-walk their way onto stage and dance in their brightly coloured costumes. Their movements were gentler, graceful, and formed delightful patterns, and their dances were sprinkled with props—spiral umbrellas, yellow pom-poms, to name a few. Their smooth gestures had a soothing effect on the energy that resonated from the sound of the loud drums, making the experience of the whole performance almost cathartic. Every movement that followed on stage was laced with coordination, discipline, grace, and elegance. I felt immersed in the performance.
Instead of the tiredness that strikes at the end of a long day, I felt energised. This was the Taiko drummers’ fifteenth annual performance and the last one directed by the same director, Kabuki-dance master Isaburoh Hanayagi. They will be back at Haverford next year as per tradition, with the same spirit but new faces. I hope to get to see them perform again, and I am sure that even under new leadership, the group’s energy and elegance will remain.
Written by Noorie Chowdhury ’21, Mumbai, India
Edited by Anna Mehta ’18, English Major, Auburn, Alabama