Tao: The Martial Art of Noise

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

29/09/2006 - 29/09/2006

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

26/09/2006 - 26/09/2006

Christchurch Town Hall, Christchurch

27/09/2006 - 27/09/2006

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

23/09/2006 - 23/09/2006

Production Details

Produced and directed by Ikuo Fujitaka
Lighting design by Yasuhiro Yag
Sound design by Yuji Urabe

Tao – The Martial Art of Noise was one of the most celebrated during the AK95 and has been seen by over 5 million worldwide, with an unsurpassed reputation for their stunningly executed performance.

This incomparable quality and pure unadulterated power and spectacle of their work perfectly blends the ancient traditions of Taiko drumming with the innovative and flawlessly choreographed production values of contemporary Japanese excellence.

Single shows only in Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch & Wellington

Music , Physical , Theatre ,

2 hrs 10 mins, incl interval


Review by Kate Ward-Smythe with input from Nik Smythe 24th Sep 2006

While I try not to form pre-conceived notions of any show, in this instance, I was sure it would be a safe bet to assume I was going to an evening of rhythm, beats and sweaty bodies. What I experience is not only an outstanding version of all of that, but also an evening of melody, dynamic shape, and extraordinary ensemble precision. Tao live is inspiring, uplifting and theatrical.

As Nik said: The Tao Drummers lay the groundwork, transporting you to a place where you are free to create your own show.  

How? Perhaps if the child psychologists who studied the phenomenon that became known as Baby Mozart saw Tao, they would find similarities. For me, the drive of the drums stimulated my senses. At one point I closed my eyes and let the layers of sound and beats resonate through my head. It felt invigorating to immerse myself totally in rhythm. Hearing the capacity crowd clap with full energy and willingly interact for the entire encore, affirmed this had been a shared experience.

While there is no traditional story telling as such, Tao are an expression, an experience, given at a primal level. The drums will evoke something different for every listener, and this communication is one of the key elements to Tao’s international success: they speak a universal language. After all, humans from all cultures have for centuries hit things to express themselves. For me the drum’s strongest echoes were of courtship, fellowship, competition, love, love of a higher being and war.

Producer / Director Ikuo Fujitaka triumphs with a keen eye for detail applied to every aspect of the show. Overall it is shrouded in ritual and grace. At the top of the night, the players approach their instruments with respect, taking their time. Between numbers this smooth, precise rite is repeated, and provides a powerful contrast to the heat and passion of each piece.

Musically, some items are like hard-core rock; propelled by frantic, driving rhythms and a blur of drumsticks (Sounds That Rock The Heavens). Other numbers are like the largo movement from a classical symphony, full of warmth and broad tones (Tranquil Light of the Rising Sun). Certainly the shape of each piece, and the evening itself, is classical sonata form, with a clear curve of exposition, development and recapitulation.

Tao are also spell binding to watch, in particular when the full company of ten work together, such as in the opening number, Message From Ancient Times. Four drummers dominate centre stage, standing behind one another other, mesmerising as they moved like one giant insect.

In the middle of the first half, the women in the troupe step into the limelight with a pensive, surging, sensual number. The three women move in strong union and show they are every bit as robust as their male counterparts.

Following the women, five "drummer boys" take centre stage, with the smallest drums from the collection. This is a number of intense concentration, which, like a call to arms, paints a picture of approaching cavalry, with military precision.

The climax of the first half proves that size does in fact matter. The biggest of the Wadaiko drums is wheeled on – and the crowd goes wild. The first time it is struck, we feel its power, right through our chests and hearts.

Soon after, this perfectly structured and hugely satisfying first half comes to a close. During the interval, I wondered how Tao would top it.

The first number in the second half confirms they still have some tricks up their sleeve, with a certain unmistakable local reference given star treatment throughout the piece (Beat of the Globe).

I wasn’t convinced by everything in the second half. Mixing the soft, feminine element of a women dressed in traditional kimono, while visually stunning, and an obvious contrast to the hard core drumming around her, seemed other than that, directionless. It was not a crowd favourite.

The "mother-of-all-drums" returns, and becomes the focus of two virtuoso drummers as one on either side attacks the skins, starting with respect and ending in pools of sweat. Though it was long and constant, it was impossible not to applaud the immense endurance and grit required by the duo.

Lighting Design by Yasuhiro Yagi is tidy and precise, using dynamic colours on the cyc across the back of stage. Such simplicity is all that is needed to compliment the star players and their instruments. In lighter pieces, Yagi uses gobos to warm the empty floor, by creating pretty dappled patterns.  He also gives us much to admire by using strong white down light to highlight every inch of extraordinary flex and muscle tone, on the drummer’s arms and shoulders.

The sound has been judiciously designed (by Yuji Urabe) so as to present as much as possible, acoustically. With the exception of head mics to amplify the traditional Japanese bamboo flutes (which provide mostly pentatonic melodies as a lovely compliment to the drums), there was no other enhancement that I could hear. These head mics also accentuated the periodic ‘calls’ yelled between players. I’m not sure if they were random expressions of sheer delight, or intricate communications keeping the ensemble together. No matter – they added to the thrill.

As I walked out of the venue, I kept thinking of the training and discipline it takes to perform at this level. It is compelling food for thought at a time when our government has just committed 60 million dollars so, as a nation, we can face up to our obesity problem caused largely by an inactive lifestyle. Get with the Tao programme I say!

I wouldn’t recommend buying a DVD or CD of Tao, as the magic is definitely a live phenomenon, which would be totally lost in translation. However, I would urge anyone who is open to a new experience, to go to Tao live. They are indeed a sensation from Japan.

For tour dates and venues, click on the show title, above.


nik smythe September 25th, 2006

Yes: in the best possible way, Tao is what you make of it. I thought about people who hate seeing movies of books they like because they don't want someone else's vision to interfere with their own. Take that back an evolutionary stage and we have Tao, where we interpret the universal language of rhythm with our own narrative - or not. I agree the second half had a couple of less dynamic or sensational works, especially in contrast with what we'd been given already. But I was amused and flattered by the incorporation of our most famous Haka, Ka Mate, in one of the larger ensemble pieces. I wonder if they know what it means? And the duet on the gigantic drum was the major highlight for me, in a night of many. I wondered what on earth there could be to say about a show like this. Actually, I usually wonder that when I start a review, but in this case I feared the more one interprets and analyses it the more removed they would become from the primal soul of the play. So well done Kate.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo