I finally saw STOMP and it was fantastic. A production came through Hamburg and I caught the last show, though a little late because of bicycle problems and train problems. As a drummer and someone interested in dance and theatre this was a must-see!
The setting is gritty and urban, like an alley in a big city, near a junkyard. The performers wear grungy clothing oozing with character, like punk or krunk. Are we in London or Los Angeles? New York or Berlin? It doesn’t matter: the scene is familiar to everyone, and the appropriated street-signs plastering the set are in many languages anyway.
There are eight performers in non-speaking roles, meaning there’s no dialogue. There is, however, plenty of interaction between ‘character types,’ especially at the beginning and ending of each scene—or number, or piece. Hard to categorize Stomp and know which vocabulary to use since it is not one art form but many: dance + theatre + music + circus. YouTube has plenty of excerpts so you may see for yourself what they do on stage. Basically a percussion piece using everyday objects, choreographed to dancing (talented performers!) and exceptionally tricky, taking it into the level of circus arts. Mind-blowing, really, and fully deserving of being famous.
I missed the beginning one or two numbers. Was it about sweeping the stage floor, making music with the swish and swoosh of their brooms? I arrived just at the tail-end of a matchstick-box maraca-shaking number.
Next was a man clapping rhythms, slapping his body and tap-dancing in dirty boots—a grungy contrast to Fred Astaire in tuxedo and patent-leather shoes. Others joined in and sand was cast on the ground, giving the performers more timbre by sliding and swooshing through the gritty sand.
A thread through the whole show was someone who ‘never gets it right’. Like the butt of jokes, he offered laughs in almost every scene. Here, e.g., he’s the last person and doesn’t get sand because there’s none left in the bucket. So he steals from his neighbour. This simple gag is delightful and makes an endearing bond between the audience and the superhuman performers.
Instead of describing every scene I’ll just list the many ways they made sound: brooms, matchstick boxes, clapping hands (many resonant pitches), body percussion, tap-dancing (in rugged boots!), scuffling on sand, whisks & tin dustpans, trashcan, soft tubes that make resonant zings when bonked on the ground, jangling paint cans with wire handles, squeaking sudsy kitchen sinks and tapping on cups while pouring water (hilarious), pails and cans striking and scraping the ground*, clicking and stamping with long wooden poles that resonate at different woody plings, stretching and scrunching corrugated plastic tubing that make resonant zippering sounds, belaying drummers striking pots & pans and street signs and metal junk while swinging from side to side above the floor, jangly rattling shuddering shopping carts spinning and slamming into each other like ice hockey ballet, a light show of sixteen Zippo lighters in the dark that ping and clap shut in visual patterns (how did they create that?), newspapers that snap and flap and whoosh in a library, dribbling basketballs that slap in the hands as counterpoint to tap-dancing*, that psshhh’ing sound of giant inner tubes getting the hell spanked out of them, tapping and scrunching cigarette packaging, plastic drinking cup & straw Brazilian cuícas screeching like randy little monkeys, tin can guiros, plastic bag cabasas and caxixis, flicking paper bag finger puppets, clomping garbage can lids, plastic barrel bottoms as drum-corps multi-toms, Cuban fiesta pots & pans, and in the finale, colossal slick-black oil drum stilts whacked with lo-o-ong poles!
An encore was essential: a clapping music involving the audience, some foot stomping too, sweeping the stage as a quiet exit, framing the entire show from the humble broom sweeping that opened.
Fantastic show, whether it’s dance, concert or circus doesn’t matter, it’s all three or more. Physical acting is very good, one sees easily dramatic character bits between performers without needing to know who’s who. It’s universal, and the ‘clown’ allows the audience in and to relax, to point and think, Yeah that was me sometimes.
The whole show is also a meticulously executed novelty act. I felt many audience reactions were like, ‘Oh wow I didn’t know you could make music with that!’ This is wonderful. It’s also good ear-cleaning, freshening one’s perspective and allowing one to hear the world anew. Afterward, when I entered a restaurant for a bite to eat, the scraping sound of a metal lifter on the grill triggered an expectation in me to hear another musical piece. Would all the cooks suddenly join in and spontaneously improvise a percussion jam?
Technically STOMP is great, the performers are über-talented, *especially when they are making music while throwing cans or balls to each other through the air, juggling together and keeping the rhythm so steady—maybe that’s what one does when juggling in tandem, to keep precise timing… one just normally doesn’t hear the effort, only sees it.
Great dynamic range, very musical, and I counted five pairs of shotgun mics (different kinds) across the apron giving good coverage for the sound designer. The music is mostly 3/4, 4/4, 9/8 or 12/8 (shopping carts in 5/4) with some metric modulation and tempo changes. Influences of world musics like Japan, Ghana and Brazil.
I’m curious about the creation process. Did one person compose the music or was it created collaboratively? And how did the music synchronize with all the juggling and dancing? Who fit that in and how were these diverse performance dimensions coordinated during the creation phase?
I’m not writing this as a review per se (although if you are curious I highly recommend you seek out a production), but I am interested nowadays in percussion-theatre, especially where it intersects by the use of objects as both props and instruments. This was such a fun experience to have had. Toi toi toi! on the rest of their tour.