Yamato offers everything you'd expect from a first-rate Japanese drumming troupe. But that's just for starters. The wildly entertaining group of mixed-gender drummers applies the theatrical exhibitionism of a rock 'n' roll concert—seasoned with humor—to samurai-serious percussion playing in concerts that captivate audiences of all ages.
In Rojyoh – The Beat on the Road, on stage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Penn State's Eisenhower Auditorium, Yamato celebrates two decades of performing in almost 50 countries around the planet.
"Yamato present Taiko drumming as physical theatre, with a mix of athleticism and showbiz," wrote a critic for The (London) Independent. "… They're exuberant performers, leaping from drum to drum, flourishing drumsticks."
Tickets are still available for the Nov. 12 Center for the Performing Arts presentation.
Watch a video preview of the show.
The anniversary program features nine works created during the company's 20 years of blending tradition and innovation. The show opens with "The Birthplace of Yamato" and includes "Strong Man," a piece performed with a technique in which the drums are flat on their sides and struck horizontally; "The Concentrated Spirit," an attempt to find focus in the age of endless distractions; "The Fire," which pits two female drummers against a pair of male drummers in a number crackling with tension and speed; and "Drumming Like a Camel," a 1998 work that's become a cornerstone of Yamato concerts.
"The sheer physical strength and movement of the drummers was as impressive as the music, in what was a visually spectacular and highly entertaining show," wrote a reviewer for The (York, England) Press. "It is surprising to witness how the company draw out an amazing range of timbre and tempo from the drums, delivering captivating music which has both delicate beauty and heart-thumping bass power."
Masa Ogawa founded Yamato in 1993 in Nara, an ancient city credited as the birthplace of Japanese culture.
Although Yamato's drummers are serious about percussion, they always convey to audiences that they're enjoying themselves. "We carry open, smiling faces into our performances," Ogawa said. "Here, men and women are equals on stage. Our smiles are meant to tickle the serious side of a human being."
Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring Kimberly Powell, associate professor of education and art education at Penn State, plus members of the student club Penn State Taiko, is offered in Eisenhower one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders. Powell, a musician, advises Penn State Taiko and wrote her dissertation about Japanese drumming. Artistic Viewpoints often fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis.