Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers at Betty Oliphant Theatre

Dance, storytelling and drumming cross over for a breathtaking experience

RAGING ASIAN WOMEN TAIKO DRUMMERS at Betty Oliphant Theatre, Sunday, December 8. Rating: NNNN

As the stage lights came up at Betty Oliphant Theatre, the Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers were already in position: legs secured in a deep lunge, arms thrust out like straight arrows as they struck and ricocheted off their instruments. Their wooden drumsticks, called bachi in Japanese, acted like extensions of their hands.

Throughout their powerful 90-minute performance, the women of RAW showed their strength and vulnerability through the modern interpretation of traditional Japanese taiko drumming.

Although the Toronto collective performs around twice a month at different festivals and events, this was their first proper full-length concert since they formed 15 years ago. A mix of traditional arrangements and original RAW pieces, the performances were punctuated by videos of members telling stories of their own personal struggles with rage, embracing the emotion as a powerful tool.

Playing drums of various sizes, which were hand-made by the collective using old wine barrels, their rage manifested into an intense, joyful and beautiful show. In the third number, three of the women sat cross-legged on the stage, pounding in unison before each took turns breaking off on her own, changing the tempo and emotion, while the other two maintained the underlying pulse.

In another, all 12 women played onstage together, moving poetically like martial artists, reconfiguring the drums in different formations.

The highlight of the show was Young Park’s solo number – the only of the show. With a small drum intricately tied to her body, Park played while unravelling herself from her stark-white kimono. As she twirled away from the drum and flowing fabric, a chiffon red dress revealed itself underneath. Dancing across the stage, she ended the number by pounding a large drum more than twice her size at centre stage. She looked petite by comparison, but the sheer athleticism required to sustain the rhythm was breathtaking. She was truly empowered.

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