Rhythm, Stories, Movement

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I am so excited to talk to you today about the upcoming 20th anniversary show of the Nagata Shachu Taiko Drum and Music Group. The one night only performance will be taking place at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto on November 24th at 8pm.

Nagata Shachu is a professional Toronto-based Japanese taiko drum group whose principal aim is to create original works for the ancient taiko.For this performance, the group will be joined by contemporary dancers, Noriko Kusama and Yuichiro Inoue, and acclaimed storyteller, Rui Umezawa.

Rhythm, Stories, Movement brings together the age old art forms of drumming, storytelling and dance into a unified and seamless production.  All the key artists in the program are of Japanese descent, and the program will focus both on traditional Japanese folklore, as well as present day issues such as race and identity as Japanese-Canadians.  Hopefully, audiences will gain a greater appreciation of both Japanese and Japanese-Canadian culture in both a historical and contemporary context.

~ Aki Takahashi

I had the opportunity to sit down with Noriko Kusama to discuss the show and her long career as a performer. She tells me that Rhythm, Stories, Movement is her first time performing a traditional Japanese piece, despite her Japanese descent. She normally performs to “western” music and will dance in the style of contemporary ballet. She had been looking for taiko drum music that she could perform to and eventually came upon the Nagata Shachu Group. 

Noriko fell in love with the group’s taiko drums and felt inspired by it, so she so she downloaded the music and choreographed a dance piece along with her mentor. Once they had prepared and polished the piece, Noriko got in touch with Mr. Nagata who came and saw their performance and then invited her to participate in the upcoming show. 

She describes the Nagata Shachu taiko drums as very melodic and dynamic and says she felt a deep connection to the music. 

Aki Takahashi has been a member of the Nagata Shachu Music Group for the past 15 years and tells me that the show will feature new compositions that are based on four short stories that were written and will be told by Rui Umezawa.  Noriko Kusama and Yuichiro Inoue will interpret the stories through solo dance/choreography,  accompanied by the new musical works performed on taiko, bamboo flute and the three-stringed shamisen.  Lighting designer Chris Malkowski will add a theatrical element to the whole production.

Noriko’s first piece is called ‘Feathered Will’ and is about a fairy from heaven who has a feather that allows her to fly. The feather is stolen and hidden by a man who doesn’t want her to go back to leave. They begin a life together until the fairy discovers that it had been the man who had stolen the feather. She finds the will herself to fly and return to heaven. 

The second piece is about different cultures and racism and is based on a true story. The title is ‘Pearl Harbour Day’ and takes place in America around the dark time of war. The storyteller is a Japanese-born American who is learning to understand American culture during a very difficult time in our history. The accompanying dance depicts sadness and hope for the future. 

Pearl Harbour Day was a great departure for Noriko and was a difficult piece for her to choreograph. Unfortunately. she has also experienced racism and was able to draw upon her own past to create the dance around the story. 

Noriko tells me that performing Rhythm, Stories, Movement will be the highlight of her career, thus far. She feels so honoured that she has the pleasure of performing with a group of such talented individuals that she has so much deep respect for. 

I am so looking forward to attending the performance with my little sister on Saturday. If you would like to join me, you can grab your tickets through this link!! Don’t miss it!!

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Allisonxo is a she/her identifying feminist from Toronto, Canada who is a lifelong crafter and lover of vegan food and thrifting.

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