Spectacle-laden physical theater has found a regular home at the Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC). This season, audiences have been treated to performances by Los Angeles-based dance innovators Diavolo, who work at the intersection of art and architecture, and by genre-defining pioneers like Mummenschanz. This week, GPAC showcases another cornerstone troupe of modern physical theater, when Japan's world-famous Kodo drummers unveil the Mystery of their One Earth tour.
The Kodo drummers have a long and influential history. The group, based on Sado Island, Japan, 177 miles from Tokyo, was touring the world before hot-ticket percussion shows like Stomp and Blue Man Group were ever a thing. It was 1980 when Kodo adopted a puzzlebox name that means both "heartbeat" and "children of the drum." But the troupe's roots stretch back decades, and the drum and dance traditions have evolved over centuries.
Kodo is sensory overload. Ritual, song, dance, athleticism, illusion, and puppetry figure into almost every aspect of the performance. Tiny drums and cymbals buzz like thousands of insects while kettles weighing up to a ton are pounded with clubs the size of baseball bats. Amid the din, enormous lions and demons shudder to life. Snakes and dragons awaken and uncoil. Dancers cut through the darkness illuminated by the glowing orbs attached to their heads.
In his artist's statement, Kodo Director Tamasaburo Bando says he's created this piece with the idea that theatergoers would experience a "mood of mystery" and leave with a "sense of purification."