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Dance Reviews : Kodo Folk Drummers of Japan at Royce Hall

February 09, 1988|CHRIS PASLES

The Kodo folk drummers of Japan, seen Friday at Royce Hall, UCLA, have survived the death of their founder, Toshio Kawauchi, who drowned Jan. 1, 1987. But there have been changes. The troupe now admits dancers and allows comedy into a more loosely structured program.

Yet the heart of the Kodo program (Kodo means heartbeat and drumming children ) remains the 700-pound odaiko (great drum), the sound of which has a primal impact. And essentially, the troupe has retained the devotional concentration that transfixes an audience and raises the act of drumming to spiritual intensity.

Unlike the ritualized drumming sequences, the new comic piece, "Chojugida," showed company members in masks assuming animal postures and cavorting around a barrel drum. It was a free-wheeling change of pace, but did not sustain interest.

Most of the program consisted of arresting examples of complex rhythms brilliantly played on a variety of drums. Unlike Ondeko-za (the company which broke away from Kodo in 1979), Kodo is very much a male ensemble. The two Kodo women were restricted to short dance interludes characterized by similar hand gestures and graceful postures.

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