Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Inside the Beat" by Mu Daiko at Mixed Blood Theatre

I've seen Mu Daiko perform about a half dozen times, and it never ceases to be an absolutely thrilling experience. Minnesota's own taiko drumming ensemble, under the umbrella of Mu Performing Arts, always gives a passionate, spirited, emotional, and thoroughly entertaining performance. I was reminded of the lovely little folk music festival I attended this fall, where one of the musicians gave a profound campfire speech about how everything is made of vibrations, including and especially music. Those big drums create some big vibrations, that literally move the ground beneath your feet and the chair you're sitting on. Perhaps all music is like this, but it's more evident with drums that music is not something you just listen to with your ears, the vibrations of the music can be felt within and throughout the entire body. The insane rhythms created by Mu Daiko move right through you.

Now in their 18th season, Mu Daiko's fall concert was held at Mixed Blood this weekend. The concert includes about a dozen pieces, most composed and/or arranged by Mu Daiko founder Rick Shiomi, current director Jennifer Weir (who performs with a fierce joy), and ensemble member Heather Jeche. They call the show Inside the Beat, and create that experience for the audience with drums on all four sides of the seating in Mixed Blood's black box theater. You can hear and feel the rhythms literally surrounding you. In addition to the drums, some pieces include flute song, or traditional stringed instruments, or singing, including a lovely piece that harkens back to the songs of childhood. Another piece incorporates theater, as masked figures act out a sweet story. Jennifer worked with choreographer Joe Chvala, a natural fit with his percussive dance style, on a piece called "Stepping Up." Joe's foot-stomping hand-slapping choreography combines with the drumming to create something fun and playful.

I brought a friend with me who had never seen Mu Daiko before, and it was so fun to watch her reaction and remember the first time I saw them. It's really indescribable and must be experienced firsthand. Taiko is a beautiful and unique art form that combines athleticism, strength, musicality, spirituality, dance, theater, and grace. It's beautiful to watch the movement and thrilling to hear and feel the rhythms. There's something raw and primal about it.

Only one more performance of Inside the Beat remains, and it's sold out. Check out their website for information on upcoming concerts and taiko workshops and classes.