Tamagawa University’s Taiko & Dance Group Booms with Cultural Joy and Prestige

Twenty minutes before the start of the show, the Lang Concert hall with its 420 seats was full to the brim with adults, children, and students alike. By fifteen minutes before the show, there was not a single seat left in the massive space. The anticipation was palpable as the start of the show creeped closer, but no one could have prepared the audience for the cultural explosion that was to follow.

Tamagawa University’s Taiko & Dance group’s sixteenth annual American tour came  last Monday to Swarthmore’s Lang Concert Hall. The performance included ten taiko and traditional Japanese dance pieces. Taiko, which literally translates to fat drum, is a traditional Japanese drumming style that utilizes different sizes of drums ranging from small to large. Performers use their drumsticks, or bachi, to play rhythms and act out choreographed motions to the song. Alternating between the energetic drum beats of the Taiko players and the more calming performances of the traditional dancers, the show was rich with Japanese culture and tradition.

Tamagawa University is a Japanese University in Machida, Tokyo. While they have other departments of study, their department of performing arts is especially well known. In addition to their tours throughout the United States, the group has done tours in countries such as Greece, Malaysia, and the U.K. The Tamagawa University brochure for the event explains that the university seeks to “raise appreciation of the arts in society, not only by training artistic people, but also by promoting the arts in Japan and abroad.” They succeeded in doing just that by bringing the power and grace of traditional Japanese art to the United States, both in Swarthmore and beyond.

The Taiko performances varied in tone and rhythm, but each was energetic in its own right. The group of Taiko performers, which consisted only of men, swapped costumes, drum positions, and members for each piece, bringing a new experience with each new set. The men were impressively energetic throughout all the pieces, shouting and cheering sometimes in their performances, striking poses, and supporting each other in solo sections. The audience could tell that they were very much enjoying the work they were doing, and their joy and radiance spread into their performance a masterful blend of skill, practice, and passion.

The traditional dance aspect of the performance was a necessary contrast to the Taiko section. The group of dancers, which conversely consisted of all women, performed traditional Japanese dances that utilized fans, hats, formations, dance techniques, and swords to cite various cultural emotions, festivals, and dances. The dances were often slower, but more mobile, as the performers were not tied down to drums like the Taiko ones were. The group used many different styles and techniques of traditional dance that each spun a distinct kind of beauty. Eventually the two groups came together in finale in a large dance number with gold and silver fans that sparkled and emanated enthusiasm.

In addition to the performance by Tamagawa University, there was an additional Taiko performance by the Swarthmore Taiko program as a part of the lunch concert series. This performance in the lobby of the Lang Music Building showcased some of Swarthmore’s Taiko talent in order to advertise for the Tamagawa taiko and dance show as well as their future  performance at the dance department show at the end of the semester. The Swarthmore Taiko group, with performers such as Jason Wong ’21 and Daisy Lee ’22, did two performances, one with a few members drumming on a set of drums and the other with a larger group of performers on singular drums. The performances themselves were massively powerful, captivating, and skillful with choreography and good but improvable timing. It was a great preamble to the performance later in the night — although not quite as powerful, it warmed up the audience to the allure of the booming drums, and inspired more people to go to the performance.

The festival first came to Swarthmore College through the partnership of the now retired Swarthmore Professor of Dance, Kim Arrow, and retired instructor from Tamagawa University, Isaburoh Hanayagi. It was mentioned in the performance that Swarthmore College is the only stop the tour has come to every year as a show of good faith and companionship between the two schools. Resident Professor Joseph Small ’05, the current head of the Swarthmore Taiko department and a former student of Tamagawa University, is continuing on the tradition of Taiko in Swarthmore like Arrow did before him.

Professor Small acknowledged the importance of the interschool cooperation.

“I am deeply appreciative of Prof. Kim Arrow and Prof. Isaburoh Hanayagi. Because of their friendship, Swarthmore’s Taiko program exists, as does Tamagawa University’s annual tour.  Both of these have flourished and grown over the past [sixteen] years (and Tamagawa’s tour actually relies on Swarthmore as a logistical base).”

He then restated a comment he made at the concert.“I mentioned in my introductory speech at last week’s concert a couple expressions in Japanese – en, which in context might refer to serendipitous fate, as well as okagesama de – an expression of thanks which on a more formal level might connote “Everything I am is thanks to you”.  So, to receive the opportunity to come ‘home’ after so many years and teach at Swarthmore College is both a case of en, one where I say to them (and all my teachers), okagesama de.”

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