Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
What is distinctive about the show is its use of everyday objects to create percussive music. Remember when when you are were a kid and your mom gave you four or five pots and pans and a wooden spoon out of which you made a clangy drum set? It's a bit like that, except the range of objects used by the Stomp performers is much more extensive: trash cans and trash can lids, Zippo lighters, shopping carts, newspapers, plastic bags, water cooler bottles, radiator hoses, and (famously) broomseverything including the kitchen sink (or sinks).
Cresswell and McNicholas' choreography combines tap, stepping, drumming, juggling, circus arts, martial arts and stage combat, gymnastics, and hip hop to great effect. The performers clearly have extensive training in dance and circus arts and all are spectacular drummers. They're also fine comic actors, displaying attitude, zaniness, cunning, and sharp timing in the numerous slapstick and bawdy bits sandwiched between, and sometimes occurring amid, the percussive dance sequences. Whether pounding across the stage with 45-gallon oil drums strapped to their boots, gliding around the stage in shopping carts, or swinging from the scaffolding, they are astoundingly athletic and nimble. But what makes Stomp so impressive is the dazzling synchronicity and precision in both movement and sound achieved by the ensemble. These performers are so attuned to one another they seem almost to breathe with one set of lungs. At times, their coordinated movements in combination with the perfection of rhythmic crinkles and crashes is breathtaking.
Stomp will not be to everyone's taste. Skeptics might find the production's pretty blatent use of proletariat chic to be a bit ironic given that the ticket prices are pretty steep. The minimal set employs a steampunk revolutionary/industrial style and looks like an urban warehouse or back alleyway, with many of the "musical" props used by the cast incorporated into the back wall. The performers appear in overalls and ragged cargo shorts, either shirtless or in oil-stained tees, some with work boots. In one sequence, they wear work caps with LED-powered lights. The clear suggestion is that these are manual laborersfactory and maintenance staff, janitors, and kitchen help happily whistling, or stomping, while they work (for low wages). Still, the working class context has thematic significance. Stomp implicitly challenges the conventional dichotomy between artists and "non-artists" while celebrating the increasing democratization of artistic production. Art has no particular province. Creativity and imagination are general human traits and artistic ability is so generously distributed as to defy all all boundaries. You don't need to go to Juilliard to make good music and you don't need a Steinway. In the world of Stomp, the potential for making music is everywhere around us. It is embedded in the objects we find around us at work, in the street, or crammed into our unfinished basements. An artist is simply the personany personwho releases that music.
While Stomp has no over-arching storyline, many of the individual segments typically follow a discovery narrative. In these sequences, one of the performers appears onstage using an object for its conventional purposee.g., a broom to sweep a floorwhen they notice that the object makes a cool sound. Or they become suddenly aware that they have unconsciously been keeping time with, say, the matchbox in their hand, or tapping out a beat with their pen as they write. As other performers enter, they take notice and look for identical or at least similar objects and before you know it, the whole cast is jamming. In another particularly charming segment, three performers pull pieces of garbage out of a garbage bag they find and experiment to see what sounds they can produce with each. They form duets and trios, some of which are astonishing. Who knew you could perform a gorgeous tonal soundscape using only plastic bags?
Actually, little kids know that kind of thing. They know before they're 4 or 5 years old that almost anything can be turned into a drum. When exactly do we forget that anyone can be a rock star? After seeing Stomp you might be tempted to sneak into the kitchen, take out a wooden spoon and all your pots and pans, make drum set, and riffjust like you know you can.
Stomp, created and directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, is being performed through October 23, 2016, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul, MN 55102. To order tickets or to find further information, visit ordway.org or call the box office at 651-224-4222. For more information on the tour, visit www.stomponline.com.
Directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas