High-energy performance, lavish costumes, huge drums and physical display.
The Beauty of 8 image via Taikoz.com.
The inaugural Asia TOPA triennial festival in Melbourne and across regional Victoria celebrates Australia’s connection with contemporary Asian Art. The project is programmed over 30 venues and engages 40 organisations; 25 commissions have been invited and over 350 artists are involved from throughout Asia and Australia. Many parties have financially supported this impressive undertaking, the principal partners being the Victorian State and Federal Governments, the Arts Centre Melbourne and the Sidney Myer Fund whose Chairman is Carrillo Gantner. Though he would not wish to be singled out, this Festival has been the dream of Carrillo Gantner for many years with previews manifest in his association with the Melbourne Festival, and through Asialink’s cultural exchange program. Creative director Stephen Armstrong and associate director Kate Ben-Tovim have curated an engaging, popular and busy program over four months involving dance, theatre, circus, events for youth and families, music, visual arts and screen, architecture and design and public talks.
Taiko are ancient Japanese drums of Chinese and Korean origin. Over centuries drumming performance styles have evolved to serve public celebrations, to accompany theatre and ritual as well as to motivate troops, also engaging elaborate costumes and dance. Performances are enjoyed for their bold physicality, vibrancy and vitality but matched with the discipline, expressive restraint and refinement that characterises traditional Japanese Art.
Many performances in Asia TOPA, such as this one, represent collaborations between Australian and Asian artists. A founding member of the Japanese ensemble Kodo, Chieko Kojima contributed a mesmerising presence throughout the performance through her drumming and exquisitely expressive dance. Founding member of Taikoz, Riley Lee’s haunting shakuhachi playing provided moments of profundity, deep reflection and calmness. The rest of this 90-minute presentation was taken up with what the capacity audience was waiting for: high-energy performance, lavish costumes, huge drums and physical display. The performance did not disappoint and by the end as we watched the Taikoz powerfully striking their six odaiko (grand drums) in mesmerising unison, one could feel the palpable energy of the capacity audience poised to jump to their feet for its standing ovation. This was pure festival fare that was all about physical energy and excitement with not a lot to think about.
I found the background presence of John Cleworth’s decorative ‘electronica’ somewhat pallid and uninteresting, Antony Lock’s Become, with its Hip Hop inspired amplified vocal effects and unabashed dance outlasted its welcome, and Cleworth’s use of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickerson’s poetry seemed to strain cultural context.
It was Chieko Kojima’s solo ‘Onna-ouchi’ (women’s side-on) drumming and dance of (traditional) Hana Hachijo shadowed with touching melancholy that represented to me the finest work of the night.
Rating: 4 stars out 5
Taikoz – The Beauty of 8
Ian Cleworth, artistic director
Chieko Kojima dance
Riley Lee shakuhachi
Melbourne Recital Centre
Asia TOPA 2017
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level