Innovative Taiko Concert Comes To Tucson

Tucson, AZ — On Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, Tucsonans will have the rare opportunity to see two of North America’s leading taiko (Japanese ensemble drumming) performers in the intimate space of The Rogue Theatre as they perform 88: Hachi Hachi. This work is an intricate weaving of taiko, dance and theatre staged by Portland’s Unit Souzou. Internationally recognized taiko performers Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe create a rhythmic journey investigating lineage, personal story and the space that exists between two people.

The word “taiko” refers to both the instrument — the drum — and the artistic, powerful art form of Japanese team drumming. Taiko began in ancient Japan as a form of communication on the battlefield and in the village. Because of its importance in the rituals of daily life, the taiko became sacred, and its use in Shinto and Buddhist religions (as well as Kabuki and Noh theater) continues into modern times.

Taiko has since developed into a performing art that traces its roots to the 1950s, when Daihachi Oguchi formed the first taiko group, Osuwa Daiko. Just 60 years later, taiko is booming worldwide: testament to the universal appeal of these powerful drums. Early North American groups began in the Japanese-American community in the 1960s, in part as a response to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

Odaiko Sonora is partnering with The Rogue Theatre to present taiko in this intimate theatrical setting. Two performances of 88: Hachi Hachi are scheduled at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are: $18 in advance, $20 at the door and are available at The Rogue Theatre box office, 300 E. University Blvd, Ste. 150, by calling (520) 551-2053 or online at http://www.theroguetheatre.org.

UNIT SOUZOU will also hold taiko workshops for students in Phoenix on Thurs. Jan. 28, and in Tucson on Fri., Jan. 29. Contact info@tucsontaiko.org for details.

Portland’s newest professional taiko company, Unit Souzou (pronounced “sohzoh”) is at the forefront of a growing artistic movement within the worldwide taiko community. With over 20 years of professional experience, Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, co-directors of Unit Souzou are relentless innovators known for their fusion of taiko and Japanese folk dance. “Souzou” can be written in three ways meaning “creation” (創造) “imagination” (想像) or “noisy” (騒々) alluding to a force by which new ideas are born and take shape in the world. Inspired by these words, Unit Souzou focuses on building creative and imaginative works for the art form of taiko. In addition to creating groundbreaking theatrical works, Unit Souzou is deeply committed to sharing taiko through teaching in schools, collaborating with the local community, and offering public classes.

Michelle Fujii creates contemporary work as a forth generation Japanese-American through the art form of taiko, Japanese drums, and Japanese folk dance placing “traditional” ethnic art within the present – not as a preservation – but as an active force that can continue to inspire and evolve. Fujii started her taiko training as a performing member of San Jose Taiko. After graduating with a degree in Ethnomusicology at UCLA, Fujii rejoined San Jose Taiko as artistic staff. In 2001 she was awarded the prestigious Bunka-cho fellowship from the Japanese government to study with Japan’s foremost traditional folk dance troupe, Warabiza, where she studied under the tutelage of master dancer/choreographer Shohei Kikuchi. Fujii has played with numerous groups including TAIKOPROJECT, On Ensemble, Shasta Taiko and served as Artistic Director of Portland Taiko for 9 years.

Toru Watanabe, folk dance artist and taiko performer, began performing and choreographing in college for the Yossakoi Team, Soran Heart, in Hokkaido, Japan. In 2001, Toru became a member of Warabiza, one of Japan’s foremost folk dance performing groups based in the northern prefecture of Akita. He appeared in four original musical productions and taught within Warabiza’s in-house residency program for youth. In 2006 Toru moved to Portland to join Fujii to work for Portland Taiko as Artistic Staff.

The Rogue’s mission is to create the highest quality theatre possible, challenging, stretching, and invigorating our community. The company is the recipient of numerous honors, including the 2012 American Theatre Wing National Theatre Company Award. They offer a full season of plays at their own theater space in the Historic “Y” on University Blvd. See www.theroguetheatre.org.

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