Island Rhythms

‘Island Rhythms,’ a showcase of Taiko drumming and Polynesian dance, brought the unexpected and proved to be a show worth seeing.
The show, held in the Crystal Cove Auditorium on Friday, Feb. 2, was organized by Jodaiko and Na Opio O Ka’aina. The two organizations have been preparing for the performance since fall quarter.
This marks the fourth performance of ‘Island Rhythms,’ a triennial tradition that began around 1997. That’s when Tomo No Kai, a Japanese/Japanese-American cultural club, and Na Opio O Ka’aina decided to make use of their close relationship by collaborating with one another on a showcase that highlighted the talents of their members.
The show began strongly with a female dancer singing in Hawaiian and men with painted faces chanting and grunting. It helped establish the performance’s atmosphere in the room.
Members of Na Opio O Ka’aina choreographed many of the routines. There were two types of Polynesian dance performed, ‘Auana and Tahitian. In the ‘Auana style, the music had other musical instrument influences like the guitar, the ukulele and the double bass.
These ‘Auana dances called forth the familiar image of Hawaii as a peaceful, tranquil island paradise. One of the ‘Auana dances performed was ‘Li’l Brown Gal,’ popularized by Sonny Nicholas, about ‘the li’l brown gal, in the li’l grass skirt, in a little grass shack, in Hawaii.’
The dancers, dressed in white tops and green skirts, told a story with their hands in which every movement had a specific meaning. There were also pieces with partners. In the ‘Auana dance, ‘Aloha ‘la O Waianae,’ two boys and two girls danced together to the strumming of a ukulele. The most notable ‘Auana dance, which was called ‘Kauanoeanuhea,’ was performed by several girls dressed in purple with white flowers in their hair. All of them danced in sync, in a beautiful and slow motion. The dance was, to say the least, simple yet elegant.
The Tahitian dances used traditional instruments, such as drums, and included tribal chanting. Na Opio O Ka’aina performed two Tahitian dances, including a piece titled ‘Otea.’ This dance was faster-paced than the ‘Auana dances, with more movement at the hips and the legs.
Dressed in black, and with red streamers in their hair, the dancers spun and shook to the loud drumming and chanting.
When Na Opio O Ka’aina was not performing, the room was vibrating with the beat of the Taiko drums. Jodaiko, which means ‘passionate drumming’ in Japanese, lived up to its name. The club, which performs Kumi Daiko, or ‘group drumming,’ is in its 15th year.
The first piece performed by Jodaiko featured both drums and flutes. The drummers, dressed in vibrant red, white, blue and purple, were positioned at the front of the stage while other Jodaiko members came parading in from the back of the auditorium hitting drum sticks. The energy could be felt right away.
Like Na Opio O Ka’aina members, Jodaiko members wrote many of their own songs, and their repertoire showed the versatility of the club. The style could be labeled as American Taiko, with influences from both New Age and old Japan.
One of the pieces that demonstrated the sharpness and stance of Jodaiko was ‘Seijaku Doutou,’ in which one drummer stood in the center, surrounded by others. Each drummer took a solo. Similar to the other songs, ‘Seijaku Doutou’ created intensity in the audience.
Another piece, ‘Jam,’ showed the different influences on Jodaiko’s drumming. The drummers had a battle of sorts, showing one another what they can do, in a performance that was much more open in movement than the previous pieces. For example, the drummers were free to use their colleagues’ drums. While each drummer brought individuality to the beat, all the drummers were still in synch with one another at various moments during the piece.
The finale was a combination of performers from Jodaiko and Na Opio O Ka’aina. In the dance titled ‘Hawai’l Nei and Live Aloha,’ the two organizations performed Polynesian dance together.
Throughout the performance, there were comic bits which helped streamline the show. Much of it was based on audience interaction with the performers. In the middle of the show, Jodaiko led the audience in ‘Aserna,’ which is shouting to hype the drummers up. The audience was led to chant ‘He-Mer-Yo’ and ‘A-Lo-Ha.’
Later, when Na Opio O Ka’aina was performing the Tahitian dance ‘Otea,’ some of the Hawaiian dancers brought up audience members to dance with them. Many of the males attempted to follow the hip shaking of the dancers to no avail, which went to show how difficult Tahitian dance can be and how skillful the dancers were.
Besides the entertaining Polynesian dances and the mesmerizing Taiko drumming, it was a spectacle to see the different costumes and the energy of the performers. Both groups made multiple costume changes; Jodaiko wore traditional kimonos and happi coats, while Na Opio O Ka’aina wore colorful outfits such as Hawaiian-print shirts and dresses.
‘Island Rhythms’ was a treat to the eyes and the ears. Those who did not have the chance to see it should definitely go when it comes around again in another three years.