★★★★☆ Japanese taiko combine with South Indian classical dance in a cross-cultural feast for the senses.

Brisbane Powerhouse
August 5, 2016

Taikoz’s Japanese drums come together with the intricate movements of Australian-Indian dance company Lingalayam for Chi Udaka – a celebration of music, dance and the forces of nature. Combining the strength and solidity of earth (‘chi’ in Japanese) in the taiko players and the fluidity of water (‘udaka’ in Sanskrit) through the movements of the Lingalayam dancers, this unique production celebrates life through these elements as they occur in a single day.

The performance opened slowly, with the soft sounds of Riley Lee’s shakuhachi – a Japanese end-blown flute – blending with John Napier’s cello and Aruna Pathiban’s classical Indian vocals, invoking the dawning of a new day. Microphone issues detracted from the overall effect, as technicians adjusted volume levels mid-performance and interrupted the held notes of Pathiban’s melodious singing. 

The performance gained intensity as it progressed, mesmerising audiences with the perfect timing of the taiko drums. The players were in time even at incredible speeds, their arms a blur in the air, and the rhythm rumbled through the floor and the audience in their seats. The bells attached to the costumes of the dancers added an extra element of percussion to the music, and their footwork was consistently in time with the rising and falling beat of the drums, although their arms and other movements were occasionally less synchronised.

Taiko drummers are often associated with earth, and their wide-legged stance is reflective of their connection with the earth, keeping them balanced. The Lingalayam dancers brought both chi udaka elements together, exhibiting all the softness and fluidity of water, as well as the strength and solidity of earth. Where in classical ballet fingers are more of an extension of the arm, in Indian classical dance the quick, intricate movement of the fingers and hands is equally as important as the feet and has its own separate choreography to the rest of the arm. Adding to the jovial atmosphere, the whole cast seemed to be genuinely enjoying their performance – the drummers smiled at each other as the dancers whirled past and wove between them. It is always more enjoyable to be an audience member when the performers are enjoying themselves as much as you are.

The Lingalayam dancers’ costumes were designed by guru and Artistic Director Anandavalli – they wore spectacular saris, all in different earthy shades of green, red and orange, and glittering headpieces. The taiko players’ costumes, designed by Alissa Bruce, were simpler and also in earthy browns and greys. Portable props and set elements designed by Bart Groen added an extra layer of movement to the performance, as dancers and drummers wheeled cabinets across the floor and unrolled mats without detracting from the overall performance. Lighting design by Karen Norris complemented the sets to create leafy forest scenes, or turned the dancing mat in the centre of the stage from a burning midday sun to a cool midnight moon. Twinkling star nets and cabinets of candle-filled jars completed the transition to evening onstage.

Chi Udaka is an engaging performance that will delight audiences of all ages with its unique, multifaceted approach to storytelling