Casual Fifth Drums Up Success with Taiko and Dance

Casual Fifth Drums Up Success with Taiko and Dance

By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The announcement of the 2020 Fringe Festival roster brought optimism to arts enthusiasts who have been longing for the return of programming. The festival kicked off on September 10th with possibilities for both virtual and in-person viewing. Although I prefer to attend live events, I appreciate the accessibility that online options offer. My first jump into the festival was the pre-recorded presentation by Casual Fifth Taiko and Dance.

Casual Fifth is the joint project of married couple Mac Evans and Alex Pfister. They had planned to put on a show in late May at the Tokio Headhouse but were sidelined by the pandemic. They continued developing pieces already in the works and held rehearsals via Zoom. They agreed Fringe was the perfect medium to put something together digitally to showcase some examples of what they had been working on.

Their 23- minute production was a nice introduction for patrons like myself who were unfamiliar with the art of Japanese ensemble drumming known as Taiko. The first song in the series, Miyake, featured Evans, Pfister and fellow percussionist, Jim Small. The work started with Evans and Small entering the frame to join Pfister, who was holding a slow, steady drumming pattern. As they continued to play together, there were well-balanced changes in the cadence and dynamic of the music. Two of the performers typically held a synchronized rhythm as the third played a contrasting beat. The artist playing in contrast did so while lunging from side to side. The other two held a low, squatting position. This provided an effective visual prompt that I wasn’t consciously aware of following at first.

Jim May, self-proclaimed disciple of Anna Sokolow and founder of the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, showcased two dances in the program that are part of a series of three solos. The pieces are based on Rodin’s “The Three Shades” and represent Sleep, Death and Subconscious. Passage (Death) was performed by May and was conveyed with purposeful movements that varied with weight transfers and changes in level and direction. May was alternately reaching for something beyond his grasp and then pulling into himself with anguished contractions. His portrayal of death was somber in both actions and facial expression. In contrast, Remember (Subconscious), performed by Pfister, had a more expansive and softer quality. The Boathouse Gazebo in FDR Park made an effective setting for her performance.

Rounding out the program was a final Taiko piece. Lion Chant combined kecak dance rhythms from Bali with old Tokyo rhythms inspired by Shishimai, known as Lion Dance. The videography used close-ups and split screen to enhance the optics and highlight the four artists. A variety of drums utilized different pitches and the musicianship was stellar.

Causal Fifth is allowing access to their performance link free of charge with the option to donate via Paypal. This is a worthwhile watch, especially to see Sokolow’s influence in May’s choreography. Viewership is also a great way to support Philly dance artists who are continuing to adapt in order to present their work.

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