The drums of TaikOz are beating so hard you can hear them down the end of the main street of Baradine. “I knew we had a large group this year so we have planned something really special says TaikOz’s Anton Lock.
Anton has been working with the high school children for the last three days, incorporating dance, music and percussion into the plan for the Moorambilla Gala Concert. It’s his fourth year here.
“I want to challenge some of the kids rhythmically, so we’ve created a separate group for them. Last year I thought the dancing worked really well, so I wanted to push some of the kids in that area with dancing and drumming at the same time.
“I’ve always had an idea to use a Japanese dancing fan, or sensu, with these kids – it’s such a beautiful thing. A professional fan maker in Tokyo made them for us and even though they are normally elaborate designs and different colours, the white was so simple and matched beautifully with the incredible backdrop created this year, we had to use them.
“The fan dance exposes a juxtaposition of strength and delicacy – the fan movements have a kind of feminine energy and I like that for guys as well as the girls to try and express,” says Anton. “The lower body is held strong and solid and the movement of the fan is soft – it becomes like a bird that is flying all by itself. It has a life of its own – your body is just moving with it – and you can really get enthralled by the fan itself.
“Fan dances are also traditionally performed by communities – there are local clubs in Japan that perform them and Anton is the only percussionist and dancer in Australia that can perform both these movements,” says TaikOz’s Sophie Unsen.
“This year everyone will be dancing and also playing drums – that’s not so traditional in Japan,” says Sophie. “You tend to have to choose one form or another. Some kids favour one particular activity – like drumming – and they are not so keen on the dancing. That’s fine – everyone likes different things but here at Moorambilla we encourage everyone to everything to the best of their ability.”
The children are playing a piece written by Anton, inspired by the Emu in the Sky theme of this year’s Moorambilla Gala Concert. “What we do doesn’t have to literally represent the emu – but what we do will connect with the spirit of the emu.”
Overlaid with the taiko dance is another interpretation by Jacob Williams, the school program coordinator for Queensland Ballet.
“Jacob and I came up with a common language,” says Anton. “While we were performing our movement with the fan, Jacob was interpreting it from a contemporary dance perspective. That was awesome. So the children get the same language throughout – they are doing interconnected dances.”
Jacob agrees. “Working with TaikOz is a lot of fun. I’ve been able to manipulate the fan dancing and slow it down and elongate all the shapes into a contemporary dance segment.”
“I have to also say that Moorambilla has been a fantastic professional development opportunity for me. I used to arrive with a set plan and work through that in order – but I am learning that it’s much more effective if artists sit down and work together. I have learnt to have faith in the artistic process – you don’t know what you are going to be doing in the first or second day. It’s amazing how fast it comes together.
“These kids are constantly surprising me with all the ideas that they are coming up with – it’s not me choreographing on them, it’s them choreographing themselves.
“Working with these kids is different from working with other kids,” says Anton. “They have a different type of determination. When we are here they are so hungry for it and I love that. I love coming here and spending time with people in this area – staying on the farm and spending time in Baradine. When we blast the main street with drums they know we are back!”