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About Joe

Taiko Drum Set
Joe Small Headshot (by i-Syu)
Copy of 2016-07-14_Spall_271
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Joe Odaiko Promo Sep
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Joe Small is a professional taiko drum artist based and Assistant Professor of Dance at Swarthmore College. His creative approach often incorporates postmodern choreography and performance art.  

Born and raised in Buffalo NY, Joe Small’s passion for Japanese taiko began in 2002 at Swarthmore College through studies of contemporary dance and theatre. He received initial formal instruction at the Taiko Center of the Pacific under Master Kenny Endo, as well as through internships with Asian-American taiko groups San Jose Taiko (2004) and Portland Taiko (2005).  

Following graduation from Swarthmore, Joe received a one-year Fulbright Fellowship to Japan to research taiko and matsuri at Osaka’s National Museum of Ethnology before entering a two-year apprenticeship for the internationally-renowned professional group KODO on Sado Island. After graduating from the apprentice center in 2009, Joe returned to the USA and became a performer for taiko and shakuhachi artist Marco Lienhard's NYC-based group Taikoza.

Since the beginning of 2012 Joe has been a disciple of of pioneering taiko artist Eitetsu Hayashi.  As the sole non-Japanese member of his professional ensemble, Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai, Joe engaged in another two year period of study and training, including concert and education tours in Japan, the Middle East, and the United States.

Joe has also been active in Sydney with the professional taiko ensemble Taikoz, including guest performances in 2015, and joining them for the 2017-2018 season, including concerts at the Sydney Opera House (with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and shinobue/taiko artist Kaoru Watanabe), Angel Place, and Darling Quarter Theatre, as well as regional educational tours throughout New South Wales.

While based in Southern California from 2014-2017, Joe co-founded Small Mountain Studios with fellow taiko artist Isaku Kageyama, instructed at LA Taiko Institute, and was a guest choreographer at Santa Monica College. Joe also performed in mixed-disciplinary works including Mishinnah Production's Iphigenia and the Book of Change (dance/theatre/puppetry/mixed-media), Tetsu Production's Batare (progressive rock-taiko-theatre), and LA-based contemporary opera company The Industry’s production of Galileo. In 2015, Joe debuted his first original evening-length work, “Spall Fragments”, which toured Los Angeles and San Francisco the following year.

As a solo artist since 2009, Joe has performed and taught throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Spain, Switzerland, and Japan. Past cross-disciplinary performance collaborators have included Barry Brannum (contemporary dance), Chey Chankethya (Cambodian dance), Norihito Ishii (Butoh dance), Laurel Jenkins (contemporary dance), Lenny Seidman (tabla), and Josh Smith (shakuhachi flute).

Joe is a 2005 graduate of Swarthmore College (BA, Dance) and a 2015 graduate of UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance (MFA, Dance). He resides in both Osaka, Japan and the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.


Selected Original Works

2021 - CQCQ  (debut, Osaka, Japan)

2018 - Propel (debut Sydney, NSW)

2017 - Sagashi

2016 - Rickshaw[o]man

2015 – Spall Fragments (first full-length stage production)

2015 - Shadowing Sukeroku, Winter (collaboration), Good Day 2B a Bad Man, Training, Somewhere Between Kokura and

Cheektowaga, Waypoint.

2014 – Earth (collaboration with Chey Chankethya), KM2L,Tama ni Kizu

2011 - Batta Batabata

2009 - Bounding

2008 - Kobanashi

2006 - Fluctuation and Convergence

2005 - Nap of the Earth II

2004 - Nap of the Earth (collaboration with Lenny Seidman)


Fine Arts Trust Award (UCLA School of Arts and Architecture) 2014.

UCLA Dean's General Scholarship (UCLA School of Arts and Architecture). 2014.
UCLA Hawkins Scholarship. 2014.

Sandra Kaufman Memorial Scholarship (UCLA School of Arts and Architecture) 2014.

UCLA WAC/D Chair's Discretionary Fund Award.  2014.

Medha Yodh Memorial Scholarship, UCLA World Arts and Cultures/Dance department. 2011 and 2014.

Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies Sasakawa Fellowship for language study at International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan. 2011.

Fulbright Fellowship to Japan.  2005-2006.

Swarthmore College Friends of Music and Dance Summer Grant for Portland Taiko internship.  Summer, 2005.

Melvin B. Troy Award in Choreography for original taiko/dance piece, “Nap of the Earth”.  Swarthmore College, 2004 and 2005.

Hally Jo Stein Award in Dance.  Swarthmore College, 2005.

Lang Summer Initiative Grant for San Jose Taiko internship.  Swarthmore College.  Summer, 2004.

Swarthmore College Friends of Music and Dance Summer Grant to study taiko under Kenny Endo in Honolulu.  Summer, 2003.

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