BOTTOM LINE: A truly unique style - a fusion of funk, hip hop, tap, and traditional Japanese taiko drums. If you like shows like STOMP, Fuerzabruta, Cirque Du Soleil, etc., though it's quite different from them, you'll like this. Outstanding talent, it is apparent that the word “mediocre” is not in COBU’s dictionary.
Last night, I watched some of New York City’s top athletes perform. No, it was not the Yankees. Not the Mets. It did not happen on a field, on a court, or in a ring but on a stage. Armed with sticks, drums, and taps on their feet, COBU tore it up in their world premiere of EN. COBU, (which means “Dance like drumming. Drum like dancing” in Japanese), combine traditional taiko drums, tap dancing, and martial arts with hip hop flavor to create an experience like no other. The energy they create is electrifying. If you think of traditional Japanese performance as slowly moving people in silk robes and white make-up and if you think of tap dance as cheesy smiles and 42nd Street, then you best think again and let the ladies of COBU show you how it's done. An impressive set, lighting design and costumes, together with stellar choreography and explosive talent, EN is a show not to be missed.
The mood is set immediately upon entering the theatre. Something strangely East meets West, old meets new, refined yet raw is suggested by Yukinobu Okazaki’s striking set design. A towering white circle with Japanese symbols painted in black, flanked by angular archways made of wood ripped from the Old West, and surrounded by perfect, shiny, taiko drums lays the foundation for what is about to take place.
The theatre goes pitch black, then slowly a glimmer of light. Is it the reflection of water or could it be the glint of a fire growing? The light dances, slowly intensifying, as does the sound of a single drum pounding. The silhouette of five dark figures can barely be seen. They seem to come from nowhere, or everywhere, as does the sound of the lone drum. Then in a flash of light and sound a sixth figure appears as a symphony of beats begin. The lighting designs of Ayumu “Poe” Saegusa highlight the sounds and the dance beautifully, as if the light is another dancer on the stage. The dancers are adorned in a various costumes that are a mix of traditional fabrics and robes, with New York T-shirts, bits of fur, and funky hair styles. The look of the show mirrors the sounds of the performance: hip, fun, sexy, fresh, rooted in strength and tradition.
Using the taiko drums, tap, body clap, shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument, similar to a guitar), voice, and even sign language, twenty different songs are shared throughout the evening. COBU creates something magical. With passion and soul they hoof, stomping their feet, and cut and thrust through the air with their drumsticks. In the song titled “Combat,” martial arts stick fighting adds another element to the beating of the drums and taps. One song, titled “Dorcus,” (where the taiko drums are placed horizontally), even managed to draw a tear or two from my eye. The beat of the drum reaches deep within, reverberating within the body, deep in the chest cavity, the taps race the heartbeat, the sticks hit the air. Then, without warning, during the briefest moment of silence I felt something wet on my cheek. I have no idea why. But, as Yako Miyamoto, (creator of COBU and performer/choreographer of EN), told me in a recent interview it’s not about knowing, it’s about feeling. And there is no right or wrong way to feel.
I wish COBU had a permanent home in NYC. EN is exactly the type of show that could easily become an NYC staple, the show that one brings out-of-town guests to see for a real “New York” experience. Working seamlessly together, the ensemble consists of Miyamoto, Hana Ogata, Yuki Yamamori, Micro Fukuyama, Haruna Hisada, Nozomi Gunji and supporting member Yoko Ogawa. Each member brings a unique individuality to the show yet the group clearly shares the beat of one heart. They are ridiculously strong (seriously, one of the most physically demanding shows I have ever seen), body and soul. A wonderful collaboration of spirit and fun, this COBU makes EN a show not to miss.
(EN plays September 19th at 8pm and September 20th at 3pm and 7pm. They will return to New York to play the Madison Avenue Festival on December 6th. Performances are at Theatre for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The show runs 80 minutes. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at theatremania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information on COBU, visit www.COBU.us.)