The Europe tour cast and crew have returned to Japan.
It was a real joy for Kodo to have been able to welcome and delight so many people at the concert venues we visited across Europe. I sincerely thank everyone who attended our performances, along with the many people who gave their all to make our performances possible.
As many of you know, the cast and crew faced numerous difficulties touring during a pandemic, including situations like concert cancellations that had a huge, direct impact on our tour. In Estonia, we held a concert for refugees from Ukraine, where Kodo felt the close presence of a large number of people who had lost their homes and family due to war. In many ways, this tour shook the cast and crew to the core.
Now that they are safely home, we would like to use our blog as a space where the cast members of our Europe tour can unpack and share their thoughts. I want the entire Kodo Group to learn from their experiences and for us to explore and process their stories as a group. We will use these learnings together as we plan what we can and should do next.
We have just got back to Japan safely after our two-month-long Europe tour.
Two years ago, our Europe tour was suddenly cut short when the COVID-19 pandemic escalated: we had to return to Japan, canceling the remainder of our performances. This time, we were touring during times of pandemic and war. While both tours were memorable in different ways, our 2022 tour was an experience that really shook each and every one of us to our core.
Prior to leaving Japan, we did not know what to expect; how many people would show up to our performances? However, much to our surprise, we were welcomed by a large, warm audience everywhere we went.
Since the pandemic started, we Kodo members have felt conflicted about our purpose in this world. Performing in front of a full house audience and hearing the words “Thank you for coming,” was truly reassuring for all of us.
What can we do as taiko performers to make this world a better place?
Tackling this question has been Kodo’s mission for over 40 years, and this tour reminded all of us that we must once again ask ourselves this very question.
These are things we experience every moment of our daily lives. Sometimes, the contrast or intensity will sharpen our awareness of the sensations. If there’s a sudden draft, when a door is opened on a cosy space, the felt experience of our surroundings is just as likely to be emotional along with physical. Our surroundings have altered and we register that change.
Having spent January in Sado ,without snow, I arrived in Russia where the relentless coldness of their winter weather threatened to penetrate to my bones. It was quite shocking.
Still, the rooms are warm, especially the air-conditioned hotel rooms. Places that are heated (or cooled) by convection: the moving and mixing of gases, particles and energy. An involuntary event that we harness and then benefit from.
During a Kodo performance, I feel something similar occurs.
Each audience member entering and sitting in the auditorium is carrying the energy of their daily life, each theatre building holding the energy of both its own unique history and locality. All things being a reflection of temperature, climate and atmosphere.
Then Kodo enters this space bearing our own dynamism.
On the stage are Taiko drums, made by Japanese craftsmen, performers dressed in traditional costumes. Across the stage is the curtain, a symbol of a boundary, but it will lift, like a door or window opening and then a new and unique atmosphere is created as all these different energies will interact and mingle.
Because, once the curtain rises “convection” occurs.
The various elements of energy within the theater begin to mix, and by the end of the performance, the atmosphere surrounding us all is neither distinctly national to the place of performance nor exclusively Kodo.
I witness this over and over, day performances, night performances, rainy days …
It is an experience that can only be felt by people who are present, it cannot be captured with photos and videos. Each sound is fresh and born in that very moment, as it is being felt by both performers and audience.
Today, you can enjoy everything on Youtube, Netflix and Spotify.
Even in such times, Kodo visits countries and tours. This involves moving insanely large drums and their stands, preparing each individual stage space with the necessary markings and then a daily tuning of the drums.
Every performance demands sweat. Each night we hand wash our costumes so they can be hung in our air conditioned hotel rooms to dry. Physical convection. This is life on the road. A cycle of preparation and movement and exchange.
Ready for the next performance, theatre or country.
Lithuania was Kodo’s 52nd country. Over nearly 40 years, this process has continued with 52 countries.
Where is Kodo performing next? (February 18, 2020)
February 1st, Moscow, Russia. The European tour is offically underway. In addition, I have reached a personal milestone. Allow me to elaborate (but not too much).
For the last European tour I was a junior member. I was inexperienced and I discovered that there are some aspects of life on the road, away from the performances, where I was completely clueless. So then, experience became my teacher and it was a very harsh one.
In a nutshell: I made mistakes. Small mistakes, big mistakes? (I hear you asking.) How do we judge these things? In this case, the actions were indeed small, yet, in terms of the level of humiliation I felt – it was huge. Therefore, I became determined to redeem myself, my reputation and self image.
I decided that I would focus and work really hard, so that when I next returned to Europe, my ‘errors’ would be behind me, firmly in the context of ‘an understandably naive action’. (It is actually quite funny on reflection, apologies that no details are being offered, at least not by me.)
It is strange and interesting how the low points in our lives can become turning points. Today I can look back on my younger self with forgiveness and gratitude.
It is the same voice of experience that can confidently say ‘this tour is going to be a completely joyous experience’.
This will be my third tour but my first to Europe. Our opening performance is in Moscow, Russia. So, for me, preparing to leave holds some familiar experiences and some fresh curiosity.
How will audiences respond to our reinterpretation of the Kodo classics in ‘Legacy’? Those signature pieces that Kodo has been performing for nearly half a century. But now, we are this troupe, here and now. What will remain the same as before and what will be different?
Intense preparation and practice is our lifestyle at Kodo Village—it becomes both our confidence and our pride. Therefore, Kodo’s legacy is instilled in our bodies and now we travel to share that gift with our audiences.
Yet, we are more than professional percussionists. We offer more than just the sound of drumming. We each offer our individual commitment and dedication to create the composite experience that is Kodo.
We do so with respect for the past and fresh ambition for the future.
My hope is that each member of each audience, at each performance, will leave with an imprint on their soul. An echo of the music that we have instilled in our bodies.
Where is Kodo performing today? (February 4, 2020)
In early 2020, Kodo will tour with “Legacy” for the first time in Europe. This work focuses on preserving Kodo’s unique “DNA” by drawing on the iconic form found within classic Kodo pieces and carefully sharing the essence of those traditions with the next generation. Expect audience favorites coupled with new compositions and arrangements, infused with creativity and boundless energy.
Honed through extensive tours in 2018–2019, under its Japanese title “Michi,” this program showcases quintessential Kodo, past and present.
Before you come to the theater, check out the fun facts below to gain some insight to this eclectic programme.
1) Legacy features music from the soundtrack of “The Hunted”
This production includes two pieces that Kodo’s Motofumi Yamaguchi composed for martial-arts action thriller “The Hunted”: the eponymous track and Kirina’s Theme. In fact, Kodo performed the entire soundtrack for this film. You might be surprised to learn that this work links Kodo to Julia Roberts and Richard Gere—the script for “Pretty Woman” was written by J.F. Lawton, the director and writer for “The Hunted.”
2) The largest drum on stage is about two-thirds as heavy as a grand piano
The mighty o-daiko weighs around 300 kilos and measures 145 cm in diameter. To imagine lifting one onto its stand, picture lifting a grand piano onto a large, high table. You’d require a big team, right? Kodo lifts the drum onto a cart first, then onto a stand for its Legacy performances. So the members need strength just to get the drum into position, and then power, technique and energy to make it resonate. The cart and stand are assembled and dismantled before and after each concert.
3) Kodo will play an alternative version of its signature piece Monochrome for the first time in Europe this year.
You may know Kodo classic Monochrome, composed by the late Maki Ishii in 1976, but did you know that Ishii’s original composition had two versions? Version A with o-daiko (large drums) part way through, and Version B without o-daiko. Kodo has mainly performed Version B on its tours to date, so that version became recognized around the world. For Legacy, director Yuichiro Funabashi wanted to introduce the other variant of Monochrome, and Kodo worked with conductor Tatsuya Shimono to render the nuances of Ishii’s complex score as intended. Kodo will perform this alternative version in Europe for the first time in 2020.
4) Legacy has a cast of 14 performers, selected from the 37-strong ensemble
Kodo currently has 10 female and 27 male performers, ranging in age from 21 to 69 years old. While Kodo is based on Sado Island, there are no Kodo members from the island. There is one member from Niigata Prefecture, where Sado is located. And there are two members who hail from the USA. Every year, Kodo welcomes people to audition for its apprentice programme from all over Japan and abroad, although advanced Japanese skills are a must to undertake the training.
5) From start to finish, you’ll hear 90 instruments during the performance
There are 39 different types of instruments used in each Legacy performance, including 11 types of taiko drum. With 90 instruments in all, including 32 taiko, Kodo has to hire a large truck to carry this precious cargo all over Europe. Kodo has three sets of drums so it can ship drums by sea to and from other continents while it tours in Japan. It takes a lot of logistics for Kodo to deliver performances around the world!
6) Uchoten uses three instruments that Kodo developed especially for the stage.
Uchoten means rapture or euphoria. It’s a brand-new piece played on a range of portable drums that Kodo designed to use in their performances with the help of renowned taiko maker Asano Taiko. There’s the high-pitched Shime-jishi Taiko, which leads the ensemble; the world’s first taiko that you can tune each head to a different pitch, Kanade; and the rich, low-toned bass drum, Hibiki. The combination is sure to get your feet stomping to the infectious beat.
7) Kodo freely incorporates instruments that it encounters on its travels into its compositions
There are several examples of this in Legacy. One is found in “Kirina’s Theme”—the beautiful melodic piece that sets the scene in “The Hunted” where melancholic Kirina makes her entrance. In this production, “Kirina’s Theme” features a harp from the Amami Islands in Southern Japan. It’s a new arrangement created especially for this programme. On Amami Oshima, this harp is played to accompany shima-uta (island folk songs). When Kodo travels, it encounters many traditional arts and instruments. Rather than imitating those arts, Kodo takes inspiration from them. Later, the members draw on their travels, using innovation and imagination to create new soundscapes.
8) Legacy blends an array of Asian instruments into a sacred dance scene
Kodo doesn’t limit itself to using Japanese instruments. In Legacy, Hitotsu creates a mysterious realm by incorporating an array of sounds from other parts of Asia. One is the Ragdung from Tibet, which looks like a Swiss horn. The piece also features shawm-like suonas, Chinese cymbals, and gongs, which meld with taiko and voices to evoke a sacred scene where Eiichi Saito depicts the “Prince of Lanling” with a dance based on a 1200-year-old court dance. His costume is a combination of clothing worn for various sacred Shinto dances.
9) Kodo originally visited Miyake Island to hear a song, not a drum piece.
Miyake is Kodo’s arrangement of a taiko piece from a festival on Miyake Island. Kodo members learned to play Miyake Taiko when they visited the island on the way back from a trip to Hachijo Island in 1982. They originally stopped there to listen to a local folk song and instead encountered an art that would go on to become one of Kodo’s most recognized pieces. Mr. Akio Tsumura taught the members to play the taiko that leads the mikoshi (portable shrine) procession in the Kamitsuki area of Miyake Island. While the rhythm and playing style of Kodo’s arrangement differs from the original art, Kodo members learn to play both styles and honor the roots of the traditional art every time they play it.
10) Legacy features a workman’s song that connects Sado Island to Hokkaido
While many workman’s songs in Japan are related to taiko by means of their references to felling and hauling trees for lumber, Okiage Ondo hails from work at sea. It’s an arrangement of a herring fisherman’s song from Hokkaido. Back in the day, herring was one of Hokkaido’s main products. The fish exports were shipped along the Sea of Japan on trade ships (kitamaesen), which linked Sado Island and Western Japan with the far north.
That’s all ten. We hope you learned something new!
We’re really looking forward to sharing this programme with audiences around Europe!
See below for the production trailer on YouTube, our tour schedule, and box office details.