One High-Octane Evening Where Traditional Is Contemporary

by Brian Sonia-Wallace

TAIKOPROJECT performing at the Ford in 2016.

When I last caught up with TAIKOPROJECT in 2016, they were in the midst of a collaboration with Chicano rock band Quetzal. At the time, TAIKOPROJECT’s Executive Director Bryan Yamami talked about “honoring tradition by turning it on its head.” What TAIKOPROJECT does in each performance is remind us that even an art form as ancient and culturally rooted as Japanese taiko drumming can be fiercely and unapologetically contemporary.

To keep it fresh for their show later this month, the group has been working with Blue13 Dance Company, a contemporary Indian dance group that blends traditional Bhangra, Kathak and Bollywood dancing with everything from ballet to hip-hop. “We’ve done music collaborations but never a dance collaboration,” Yamami tells me over the phone from Germany, where his company is on tour. “Blue13 seemed like a perfect fit because they are based in tradition, but they’re really modern.”

Achinta McDaniel (center) and Blue13 Dance Company.

“The process of learning from artists in other art forms helps us to understand our own better,” says Yamami. “Achinta McDaniel [Blue13’s Artistic Director] jumped right in and started choreographing our drummers, bringing us out of our comfort zone.”

TAIKOPROJECT drummers in action.

Watching TAIKOPROJECT perform is more than a musical experience; it’s also a kinesthetic one, as drummers draw their whole bodies back to strike the huge drums, swirling past one another in tightly choreographed routines to swap drums while keeping the same steady beat. Mix in Blue13’s highly theatrical and energetic dance and you get one high-octane evening. 

When I ask Yamami what will surprise audiences with this very LA mash-up, I think I can hear a smile creep into his voice as he says, “visually, it will be very different from anything we’ve done in the past.”

Rhythmic Relations 2018 performs on Saturday, June 23 at 8:00 PM at the Ford Theatres. Go here for tickets.