The Tao drummers make a big impression in every sense. Spectacularly percussive, visually compelling, and elementally energising, the ensemble should carry a health warning: this is not a show to see if you have even the merest hint of a headache or a hangover. I thought my hearing might be seriously impaired from the moment the players struck up, battering their big, black, gleaming drums as if their lives depended on it. Earplugs should be added to the souvenirs Tao push at their concerts.
This stunning hour-long entertainment, Beat of the Globe, was devised for the group's open-air theatre on their Japanese island home of Kyushu. It begs for a big space. Forget the elegant Edinburgh church where Assembly has programmed Tao on its first European appearance. The ensemble should be transferred without delay to somewhere big and breezy where the ricocheting drum beats can break loose, instead of bouncing between an arched ceiling and our heads. This troupe should be at the Tattoo, beating the retreat high on the castle esplanade, and I swear we would hear them at the other end of town.
It's unlikely that the ancient taiko drumming has been performed with such sheer physical intensity and showmanship; these players pack a real punch into each sequence. Wielding sticks of various lengths and materials, they beat the hell out of their drums. The biggest baton is the impressive 150cm long, 10cm thick bat used by "The Timid Strongman" Kenji Sato to attack the grand odaiko drum. It's quite a sight: his quads flex, abs ripple, pectorals striate and arms glisten as each violent thud creates tremors that rise up from the very depths of the building.
The performers have taken catchy names such as "Bad-Boy Bartender", "The Endure" or "The Pint-Sized Leader". The latter, Natsuko Kuroyanagi - despite her smaller and more defined physique - looks more than capable of knocking out far heavier or larger men. Costumes are simple: white sleeveless tunics stamped with red graphics or svelte black tops with grey or red trimming. The only variation is the central dancing figure in a white dress with sleeves that unfold like wings. Elegantly though she moves, that early number stands out a little oddly in a show that is otherwise so athletic and hard-driven.
There is, however, a balletic element to the players' movements, precise choreography matching the pounding percussive sounds, arms raised in synchronised drumming. It's all seamlessly presented; players gliding on and off the platform, from the first number to the rabble-rousing finale. Here the audience is whipped up into a frenzy, clapping along in enthusiastic appreciation. I have no doubt that we'll hear more of Tao - but preferably from a greater distance.
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