Visual, auditory spectacle

On Saturday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, a group of top-notch athletes will take the stage. They're not dancers or acrobats. They're drummers.

TAO, a Japanese drum ensemble that tours internationally, will perform taiko, a traditional mix of drum, dance and martial arts — the same mix the troupe has performed in front of more than 3 million people all over the world. It will be their first show in Olympia.

In an article for The Age of Melbourne, Australia, Stephen Bevis wrote about the lifestyle of the drummers in training at the group’s home base on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

“After making their traditional cooked Japanese breakfast, they do two hours of muscle training — 200 push-ups, 200 sit-ups and 200 squats — and martial arts followed by 10 hours of drum and choreography practice.”

The audience will be able to see how hard the drummers are working, said Tom Iovanne, executive director of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which has hosted numerous taiko troupes over the years.

“What they do physically is astounding,” Iovanne said. “You can imagine hoisting a big club over your head, and that would be easy enough, but then hitting a drum with it for four minutes? That’s hard.”

Kodo, which brought taiko to prominence in the United States, performed at the center during the 1989-90 season, Iovanne’s first at the center.

“The first time they gave a concert, it was at the end of running a marathon,” he said. “They ran a marathon and then gave a concert at the end.”

TAO follows the same kind of rigorous schedule. In an interview with Australian journalist Brendan Crabb, TAO drummer Yoshinori Suito described the troupe’s touring regimen:

“On a daily basis, we do 10-15 kilometers of running, a lot of stretches, push-ups and sit ups,” Suito said. “You also have to beat on the drums for two hours before the show to build the muscles up. It’s a lot of work and energy.”

The result of all this training is a highly athletic performance that is often described as explosive.

Olympia audiences, with their interest in Asian arts and in percussion, appreciate the taiko performances, which have happened every few years. “They tend to be pretty choreographed; different people are moving among different drums,” Iovanne said. “It’s a visual spectacle as well as an auditory spectacle.”

But it will be a loud one too, Iovanne said.

“The joke here at the center is that we have to present taiko drumming every third or fourth year,” he said, “because the vibrations help clean the curtains.”