Karen Falkenstrom returns to her beloved drums. Aaron Latham Latham Photographi

Karen Falkenstrom has found a little room to breathe again.

For the last two years, Falkenstrom has run herself ragged combining her love for Japanese drumming with running the Rhythm Industry Performance Factory, an arts collective housed in a custom-built warehouse on South Tyndall Avenue near East 22nd Street.

Her drumming group, Odaiko Sonora, has also felt pressed in other ways.

"It is so hard to come up with $4,000 a month to pay for that puppy," Falkenstrom said, referring to the warehouse. The drummers share a space with Flam Chen, Batucaxé and several other local arts organizations. "It was sucking away all of our creative energy."

Falkenstrom received some relief in June when she was awarded a $25,000 Arizona Arts Award from the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.

The money allowed her to hire a part-time staff at the Factory. In turn, Falkenstrom has had time to work with Odaiko Sonora to put on new performances, such as the Taiko Plus! showcase tonight and Sunday at the University of Arizona's Stevie Eller Dance Theatre.

The new program - the group's first full-length stage show in nearly two years - will feature original and traditional works and three collaborative pieces with Rhythm Industry associates, Batucaxé, Thom Lewis Dance and Theatrical Mime Theatre.

Past Odaiko Sonora productions have featured taiko groups from California and Phoenix.

"We spent a lot of money bringing people in from out of town," Falkenstrom said. "Now, we can pay local performers for the work they are doing to enrich our community."

Odaiko Sonora's primary performing-ensemble members - Falkenstrom, her partner and group co-founder Rome Hamner and Nicole Levesque, handpicked who they wanted to work with on Taiko Plus!

Falkenstrom said Levesque chose Thom Lewis Dance because of her background in modern dance.

Hamner picked Theatrical Mime Theatre because founders Lorie Heald and Rick Wamer trained with Marcel Marceau and are considered the top in their field.

Falkenstrom went with Batucaxé because of the connection she felt with the Brazilian percussion and dance ensemble.

"The way they bring their art form to the community through festivals and on the street is also inherent in taiko," she said. "We have a connection to our land and our communities."

The pieces will be featured along with strictly taiko works, including the four-part "Weather Suite," inspired by the intense heat and heavy rains of Tucson. Another piece, "Kore Kara," was written by a group of young Japanese-Americans from California and premiered at the 2005 North American Taiko Conference.

"They are hip, cool," Falkenstrom said. "They play taiko because taiko has always been there, but they incorporate drum-line and mix it up because they can. They are young and talented and playing at an amazing level."

Falkenstrom said the new showcase is an evolution of what Odaiko Sonora has to offer Tucson.

"Our mission in the early days was to get people familiar with taiko," she added. "This is a deepening of our relationship with the community."

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at 573-4137 or ggay@azstarnet.com