A good crowd attended the recent performance of STOMP, part of McCain Auditorium’s Performance Series on the Kansas State University campus.
According to the program, STOMP was conceived by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas in 1991 in Brighton, U.K., and is a melding of movement and visual comedy around a backbone of percussion.
In STOMP, everyday objects and the performers’ own bodies become instruments for conveying a myriad of rhythms. The addition of intricate choreography completes the performance and adds the visual complexity to keep the audience engaged while periodic comedic interaction with the audience brings audience participation and familiarity.
The set was a myriad of metal and plastic items forming a wall suspended from scaffolds. Street signs, pipes, corrugated sheeting, barrels, pails, pans and bins contributed to an urban junkyard aesthetic that matched well with the layered rhythms built in front of (and on) them.
The show opened with a single performer pushing a broom. He effectively used subtle comedy to warm up the audience. His slow, meandering sweeping eventually gave way to a complex cacophony as the rest of the troop joined in with their own push brooms. The set included something of a soloist using two brooms in the spotlight as the other performers back up his percussion with a base rhythm.
The performers mirrored the urban junkyard, wearing a mix of paint-stained disheveled clothes, torn jeans, and generally unkempt appearances. Their clothing fit well with both the set and the objects used for their sets.
Throughout the performance, the audience was slowly taught how to respond to cues from the stage. In several comedic interludes, the performers feigned disgust at the inability of the audience to keep up with their cues. The audience was enthusiastic and seemed to enjoy the interaction.
In one set, four performers used boxes of wooden matches to have a rhythm competition. By shaking and taping the sides of the boxes, they each took turns soloing. This setup became a recurring theme as different items throughout the show become the focus of attention and the performers seemed to compete, but ultimately cooperating in ensembles with rubber tubes, steel sinks or paint cans.
One of the more visually impressive sets involved the wall of junk that made up the backdrop. Four performers wearing headlamps made their way into harnesses in the dark and began performing from high on the wall. The harnesses suspended them well above the stage, and allowed them to swing freely from one object to the next as they beat out a rhythm. Synchronized movements from one side to the other of the matrix of junk looked precarious, and the scaffolds swayed ominously, but the rhythm continued.
More comedy came from a set involving a garbage bag. As three performers built rhythms from items typically found in the garbage, even going so far as unsuccessfully trying to build something with a banana peel, competition among them forced multiple dives into the refuse to find new objects. Some of the objects used were plastic bags (both loose and filled with air), coffee cans, lidded cups and straws.
While some sets were definitely stronger than others, and there were a few drops when paint cans were sent flying around seemingly at random, there was no doubt about the skill and talent of the performers. In all, most people that will allow themselves to be entertained by STOMP will not be disappointed.
STOMP received a standing ovation from the audience and the show closed with the audience providing the percussion as the last performer left the stage. The show was as much fun as I expected it would be. What I did not expect was how much fun the audience proved to be.