COBU - Dance like Drumming,Drum like Dancing
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 17, 2011
In this fast-moving, explosive 45 minutes of music and dance, seven attractive, fit, intensely focused, Japanese American, dancer-singer-musicians, who happen to all be female, play traditional Japanese Taiko drums and other instruments with a funky hip hop style, that mixes traditional and new wave. Taiko drums are very large traditional Japanese drums roughly shaped like a wine barrels, and have heads on both sides of the drum body which are played with thick wooden sticks called Bachi. To play a large Taiko drum involves the entire body and is extremely athletic.
In sneakers or low heeled tap shoes that allow for all sorts of tapping, twirling and balancing, performers Micro Fukuyama, Haruna Hisada, Takae Kawabe, Yako Miyamoto, Yo-co Ogawa, Namiko Yamada, and Yuki Yamamori present an interesting array of music and dance. The footwork seems a blend of tap, and a sort of flamenco, with flowing hip hop body movements coupled with very angular poses. It is an interesting mesh of styles.
Founder and director of COBU, Yako Miyamoto, is a veteran of the off-Broadway hit Stomp and since no lighting, costume, or choreographer credit is listed in the program, one must assume that these were all from Miyamoto or a group effort.
The stage is kept free to allow for the constant movement into different patterns of the drums which stay at the heart of almost every number. The choreography is simply amazing, with nonstop action fused with humor that uses every inch of the stage and the area in front of it. The dancers keep the beat going while twirling, leaping, and sometimes seeming to fly around and above the drums. The lighting changes from bright white, to brilliant primary colors, adding to the excitement. The clever colorful costumes sometimes seem to change magically before our eyes as one number flows into the next. Every artist is given a chance to shine, and all dazzle, but Miyamoto has a very particular charisma and connection with the audience. She talks with her eyes as well as her body and seems to communicate with all of the artists on the stage equally. Too much constant intensity would be overwhelming, but Miyamoto cleverly varies the pace. One piece that has three artists chanting a slow hypnotic melody with little movement provides an oasis that is just as captivating as the lively numbers.
There is some audience participation, so if you are into that sort of thing, sit in the front for a better chance. One warning, the FringeNYC performance space is small for this particular type of entertainment. If you are one of those challenged with sensitive ears (I plug my ears when subway trains go by) you may be vulnerable to all the percussion that is involved here and may want to sit near the back, or bring ear plugs. It will not diminish your enjoyment one bit.