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Chousensha -The Challengers – Review

Yamato Chousensha - The ChallengersYamato, the Drummers of Japan, make a ferocious and fabulous evening’s entertainment. This likeable ensemble of twelve players make it clear from the start they are on stage to please you in every possible way as they display the power of their incredible strength and rhythmic skills by means of instruments describing their Japan.

They begin their performance with the whole company of men and women playing wadaikos (a Japanese drum). During the evening they switch around the size of their drums until they reach the largest. If you enjoy extravagant drumming be prepared to be amazed.

There is a lovely section in the first half where four women musicians move away from their drums to play the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument, they work as hard as any electric guitar. It’s wonderful and moving too, watching these women play with such great energy.

This is called The Challengers Tour and as you watch the physical powers summoned by these musicians you begin to understand why for there is the feeling they could take on anyone and would win.

The Yamato group live together in a community, creating everything in the show themselves. This includes the musical compositions, lighting design, set design, and choreography. Even making the drumsticks (bachi) they use. They are clearly aware of the need for movement on stage to offset the inevitable static nature of playing the drums and they use choreographed movement and lighting as well as variations in the numbers of players visible at any one time to manage this.

The costumes also help to suggest movement. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto, the famous fashion designer and also the producer of this show, they are splendid, their dramatic colour revealing the extraordinary athleticism of these performers.

There is a lot of smoke used, some of which escaped the stage of the Peacock into the auditorium. If you are susceptible to this, as opposed to enjoying the atmosphere created, you might find the show difficult. But, for all those others, who enjoy the power of rhythm played with charm and enormous skill, this will be a show to relish.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Almost 20 years since their West End debut in 1998, high-energy performance group Yamato Drummers of Japan return to The Peacock from Tuesday 14 – Saturday 25 March with the UK premiere of Chousensha – The Challengers bringing with them the ancient art of Japanese Taiko drumming, which is used traditionally in Japanese Shinto rituals.

Yamato brings new life to this ancient art form with their innovative shows whilst paying respect to its rich history. In a display of strength and ferocious skill Chousensha takes inspiration from the drummers’ own lives and experiences, challenging their bodies and pushing them to their physical limits, using their entire bodies to produce thunderous music.

Taiko drums can measure six feet in diameter, weigh up to half a tonne and require ample athleticism. The lithe and supremely confident drummers perform with bare arms and feet and with total body awareness.

Yamato is a company steeped in cultural history. The name Yamato refers to the name for ancient Japan during the eighth century. The company was formed by Masaaki Ogawa in 1993 in Japan’s ancient capital, the city of Nara. Nara is now the capital of Taiko drumming and boasts over 100 Taiko drumming companies. Since the company’s first performance at the Shinto shrine festival, they have given over 3,500 performances in 53 countries and regions to 6 million people. Yamato is based in a village called Asuka and the members of the company live together in a community and create everything for the shows, from the musical compositions to the choreography and from stage and props to the bachi (the drumming sticks).

Following The Peacock performances, the show will go on a UK tour:

UK PREMIERE
Yamato
Chousensha – The Challengers
The Peacock, WC2A
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 25 March

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