Friday, September 18, 2009

On-Stage: COBU EN

As much athletes as musicians, most drummers are disgustingly healthy. Amongst percussion instruments, the Japanese taiko drum can be particularly grueling. Combine taiko with high octane tap dance, and you have one physically demanding show, but it never even winds the COBU dance troupe. While honoring tradition, COBU brings plenty of noise and a hip attitude in EN (trailer here), their new show now playing at the Theater for the New City’s Johnson Theater.

COBU founder and guiding light Yako Miyamoto began her studies of taiko drumming at the age of eight, but majored in chemistry while in college. However, when she discovered tap, Miyamoto came to America to study with Savion Glover. Eventually, she would land the part in the Off-Broadway hit Stomp that she has held for the last nine years while simultaneously performing with COBU (all of which sounds truly exhausting). Yet based on the evidence of EN, stamina does not seem to be a problem for Miyamoto or any of the company members.

Though not originally conceived as such, COBU has evolved into an all-woman company. The seven members (including Miyamoto) who perform EN are indeed thoroughly impressive dancers and musicians. Miyamoto’s choreography is often quite spectacular, inventively integrating the kinetics of drumming with a very funky, hip-hop influenced tap. Some numbers, like the appropriately titled “Combat,” also add martial arts fight choreography into the dizzying mix. Actually, the clash of quarterstaffs and drumsticks looks a bit dangerous, but happily no dancers were hurt during last night’s performance.

Clearly, EN is all about rhythm. Though COBU play a variety of percussion instruments, the large kettle-like taiko drums dominate the program. Throughout the show, you can feel the vibrations traveling through the floor and up the risers. As a result, it is hard not to get caught up in COBU’s groove.

Miyamoto is particularly charismatic on-stage, but the entire company—Hana Ogata, Yuki Yamamori, Micro Hisada, Nozomi Gunji, and Yoko Ogawa—brings an energetic and energizing spirit to the show. COBU’s show should have a similar appeal to Drumstruck, which had a reasonably successful commercial Off-Broadway run several years ago (and was a pretty entertaining show). EN though is a better production, featuring more dynamic choreography and foregoing forced attempts at humor.

COBU is a very cool group that seamlessly blends the drumming and dancing disciplines. EN should be a crowd pleasing show for both hipster New Yorkers and tourists looking for some entertaining on-stage spectacle. Highly recommended, EN runs through Sunday evening (9/20). Following their run at the Johnson/New City, COBU will tour Japan starting October 9th. Cities will include Tokyo, Fukuoka, Hirosima and Sendai. They return to New York for the Madison Avenue Festival December 6th.

(Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity)