Fringe Music and Cabaret

Rob Adams

Taiwan Season: Sounds of Taiwan

Zoo Southside

four stars

One: The Man Chosen by the Spirit of the Japanese Drum


four stars

Steele Edge: Martial Arts Illusion Show

theSpace @ Venue 45

four stars

LISTED below the event’s main heading in the Fringe brochure, Wooonta Trio are, as is often the case with small print, worth paying attention to, their music being a refreshing amalgam of east and west. The eastern influences come through the use of sitar and the erhu, a two-stringed, bowed instrument, and the west is represented by French cellist Hugues Vincent and an approach that owes something to jazz improvisation and composition as well as oriental folklore.

T.S. Lo, Taiwan’s sole representative in the group, brings an amazing range of tones and expression from the erhu, and plays a major part in their stated aim of creating a journey in each piece that leaves lots of room for spontaneity. The three musicians work superbly together, supporting and interacting with apparent ease, and while there’s plenty of heat, as their improvisations build in intensity, the essential melodies are very clear, with Japanese sitar player Ryohei Kanemitsu playing cool, direct lines as often as the more intricate, fevered note clusters associated with certain ragas.

They don’t exactly outstay their welcome, playing for just forty minutes, but in this case brevity adds to the potency of what they have to offer as part of the multi-disciplined Taiwan Season visiting the Fringe.

KENSAKU Satou’s musculature is testament to his dedication to Taiko drumming, a tradition that calls for strength and stamina as well as percussion nous. His performance has touches of theatre, as he arrives in robes and changes costume several times before concentrating on the massive power and precision of the finale, and each piece has its own character as, between times, he moves from drum to drum to a drum kit of five instruments that he negotiates with startling skill.

The variety of these drums can be measured by the biggest being “played” with a kind of mini caber that Satou bounces adeptly on its skin and the others, including one worn over his shoulder and featuring impressively “flying” hands, requiring sticks of different dimensions from baseball bats to super-thick wooden knitting pins. Taiko can sometimes be regarded as an austere art form but Satou eagerly involves the audience at one point and the over-arching impression is of an artist who communicates with not just superb sticksmanship but also genuine musicality. Ear plugs aren’t required.

THERE'S no shortage of “how did they do that?” moments in Steele Edge. Playing cards “spear” balloons and slice through other playing cards and if one cast member goes into a crate that’s promptly locked, you can be sure that a different cast member will emerge from it shortly afterwards. It’s the classic illusion set pieces fine-tuned and updated and brought into the rock ‘n’ roll amphitheatre with rather bombastic musical accompaniment but these routines still appeal – it appears from this experience - across the generations.

Expert choreography, whether by break-dancing, somersaulting samurai or a rather sweet, eyelash fluttering, ear wiggling dragon whose tail lights up, adds to the artistry of fan dancing and sword sorcery and the mystery of how a woman can emerge unscathed from a cardboard box that’s been given more perforations than a well-known brand of tea bag with an armful of canes and a ringmaster’s venom.

All runs end August 27