When Mu Daiko’s taiko drummers beat out a rhythm, it’s not just performance — it’s exultation. With a fusion of percussive beats and fluid, athletic movement, the artists on stage for Saturday night’s 15th Anniversary Concert gave the enthusiastic crowd in Ordway’s intimate McKnight Theater a rousing performance of both classic works and new compositions.
Led by artistic director Iris Shiraishi, Mu Daiko is a program of Mu Performing Arts (a Knight Arts grantee); Mu’s Director Rick Shiomi brought the 2,000-year-old Japanese drumming tradition to Minnesota and Theater Mu in 1997 with classes, workshops and performances. After one more weekend of performances in St. Paul, Mu Daiko will hit the road over the next three weeks, celebrating its milestone anniversary by touring the show through venues around the state.
The company members — a number of them with Mu Daiko since its inception 15 years ago — clearly take such joy in the thunder they make together on stage and that exuberance is immediately infectious.
What’s more, these artists are really good at what they do. The taiko drummers perform together tightly, on instruments large and small, depending on the piece, jointly moving and precisely pounding, never missing a beat. But there’s such exhilaration within the bounds of that evident discipline and so much play — you frequently see a wink and a dare shared between players, egging each other to greater heights. It’s like watching seasoned jazz musicians and longtime bandmates madly improvise together, jamming on a favorite tune.
The show grabbed the audience from the beginning with the bone-shaking power of Shiomi’s repertory piece, “Pounding Hooves,” and we didn’t catch our breath again until intermission. The evening’s lineup showcases the versatility and surprising sensitivity of the instruments as much as it celebrates their power. In these performers’ hands, the taiko drums are equally adept at rhythms delicate and muscular. Some pieces rested solely on the sounds of the drums and others featured vocals, flute and even guitar and narration. A number of them are premiere works, written by company performers and performed for the first time before an audience in this concert.
Mu Daiko’s 15th Anniversary Concert, continues for one more weekend in the Ordway’s McKnight Theater, with guests HANAYUI and Yoshikazu Fujimoto, joined by Tiffany Tamaribuchi and Megan Chao Smith; the run continues Feb. 16 to 19, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and a Sunday matinee at 2:00, at 345 Washington St., St. Paul, Minn. Find ticket details and additional information about the program online: http://www.muperformingarts.org.