Video: Taiko drum Sensei Ikuyo Conant on new London show
Jukai is a London stage show based around three women linked to a forest in Japan's Mount Fuji, an area known for its natural beauty but also shrouded in the darkness of its reputation as a suicide hotspot. The story encorporates traditional theartical elements with Taiko drumming and features a cast of talented drummers.
On the eve of the show's opening, we spoke to Taiko drumming Sensei Ikuyo Conant about the production, her teaching background and the many ways in which Taiko drumming can be used.
How did you first get started in drumming?
"I've been drumming for 19 years. My daughter wanted a drumset when she was eight and I said, 'No, we don't want the police coming to our house every day!' We were looking for something else and there was a sign for Taiko drumming, so one drum instead of five.
"She stayed there for about three or four months. She wasn't really impressed. They didn't have drums, they had discarded tyres. She lost interest but the founder of the group asked me to stay so they could have enough people for the lessons and I ended up staying for the next 19 years!"
Can you tell us about Jukai?
"My daughter Ailin is the director of the show. She has been involved in theatre since she was five. Taiko is very physical and she does a lot of physical theatre so that's how we started developing the story. We first spoke about doing something about six years ago."
What can people coming to see the show expect?
"To me Taiko drumming isn't just a musical instrument, it's earlier Japanese elements and the women's movement. It's expression. The show is a journey. The characters are drawn into the forest and we want to know why some people choose to end their life in a beautiful setting in nature."
As well as the show, you're also a busy Taiko drumming teacher.
"I teach a lot of older people so I use a lot of breathing techniques and meditation. I also work with people as part of a healing process. It's sometimes used as music therapy. Because it's so physical we can use it for cancer patients, using the vibrations as part of their therapy."
You seem to stress the importance of technique for drummers.
"People need to get their technique in order if they want to hit hard otherwise they will have headaches. They need to work on their centre of gravity and feel. That's all part of our training. Right now I'm doing a lot of breathing exercise and using circular movements to drum. In martial arts they talk about the relationship between your body and technique. They tell you that if you learn techniques you don't need to hit so hard. No one really teaches Taiko drumming techniques so I've learnt martial arts to help with that.
"I learn a lot from teaching older people. Things like raising their arm is not easy for them. So I started learning the mechanism of the body, how the hands move. You start seeing how people move."
Jukai runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre from 28 September until 16 October.