Photo by Steve McNicholas.
The performance of this year’s STOMP tour at the Ordway Center in St. Paul, met audience expectations, and then some. It is a most unique theatre experience, being a mix of dance, vaudeville, symphonic percussion, avant-garde theatre, performance art and musique concrète (music from found objects). Like the monikers Blue Man Group and Cirque de Soleil, STOMP is a recognizable theatrical style performed by many sibling ensembles around the world. After twenty-five years as a global-scale performance franchise, it has become its own singular genre. When you go to see STOMP, you automatically have certain expectations: banging on trash bins, smashing trash can lids, percussive sweeping and rhythmic stick fighting.
I brought my young grandson to the STOMP to see how music can be made from found objects like pieces of piping, buckets, mops and kitchen sinks. It was empowering for him to see the inherent artistry of choreographed bashing, drumming, pounding and water splashing. He was mesmerized by the performance, but he confided that he was worried that STOMP would be asked to leave for banging things on the stage.
STOMP was created in 1991 by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, with the current tour directed by both. They are responsible for STOMP’s signature opening routine featuring the syncopated rhythm of sweeping brooms, as well as the exhilarating physical theatre of the climactic trash bin dance.
Though my grandson’s eyes, I could see the outrageous heights of energy attained by the ensemble as a crucial element of STOMP’s performance. With performers hanging by bungie-like cords high up on walls covered with junk-yard objects, the swinging and drumming begins rather tentatively. From that point on it’s an orgasmic rush of sound and movement. The percussive meter accelerates wildly, mixing the pop, twang, and boom of objects of different material hit by drum sticks in complicated rhythmic patterns that approach pandemonium.
Half-way through the concert, the stage darkened and the ensemble clustered downstage for an amazingly coordinated performance with old-fashioned, clinking cigarette lighters. The spark and flash of the lighters raced between the nine performers in patterns as intricate as any LED display. The quiet rhythmic clinks and striking light-play was a perfect counter-point to the more kinetic and cacophonic pieces. It was the first time my grandson said the word “beautiful” and really meant it.
The finale met the fans’ expectation for artistic chaos with acrobatic movement accompanied by orchestrated trash can banging. It was a choreographed onstage riot of drumming, marching, jumping and somewhat combative instances. At one point, two ensemble members, with a trash can lid in each hand, smashed together in a climactic frenzy. When the adrenaline rush was over, I suddenly flashed on the battle for Mosel, just beginning, and what had happened to Aleppo, Syria. I realized the significance of STOMP’s expression of intense emotional energy that, in other venues of life, we are forced to repress.