Hitting you with their rhythm sticks all night long
In the 21 years since its humdrum première at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh to its highpoint at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London, the highly original and thrilling primal percussion performances of Stomp have raised the heartbeats and pulses of audiences the whole world over. Guests at the Falkoner Theatre in Frederiksberg are therefore in for a treat as this eight-man journey, told through the irresistible medium of rhythm, returns to the Danish stage.
You probably know them as “those people with oildrums strapped to their feet”, but that strong visual image hides the true versatility of Stomp. The high-octane octet may churn out incredibly complex thumping rhythms, but Stomp is also about slick choreography and dazzling dexterity, not to mention the childish thrills of being able to make a hell of a noise!
The typical Stomp performance is a non-stop battering assault of the aural and visual. Part of the genius of Stomp lies in the tireless exploration of percussive potential in an eclectic range of everyday objects: from toilet plungers to dustbin lids, and shopping trolleys to matchboxes. When manipulated into hypnotic pounding rhythms by the urban merrymakers, any object is fair game. There are no limits as the show constantly surprises with the introduction of new objects to bash, slap and shake.
The brainchild of Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the roots of Stomp lie in the early 1980s and, apparently, the moment the show was formed can be traced back to a crew of Burundi drummers in the vibrant street theatre atmosphere of London’s Covent Garden. McNicholas and Cresswell watched the drummers pick up their drums and walk off in unison – both had the same vision of bin-bearing dustbin men.
The manic refuse collectors made it onto the TV screens with the 1986 ‘Bins’ Heineken advert. This was followed some years later in 1991 with a late-night slot at the Edinburgh Festival that opened the door to a successful Australian tour. Suddenly the show exploded into the public consciousness as the likes of Coca Cola, Toyota and SEAT also employed the percussive services of Stomp in their commercials, while TV viewers were also treated to rousing guest appearances on Sesame Street and the Royal Variety Show.
Among the personal highlights for the Stomp creators, apart from the Olympics, was the chance to perform on stage at the Emmys in a tribute to the legendary master of musical mayhem, Spike Jones, and working together with the legendary Quincy Jones at the Oscars.
In a 2011 interview published in IndieLondon, Cresswell and McNichols attempted to explain the enduring appeal of Stomp. Despite the obvious universal appeal of rhythm, McNicholas pointed to the elements of broad physical humour in a show that often takes inspiration from the comedic geniuses of the silent era, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Equally important was “having a rapport and dialogue with the audience and keeping it fresh”. This is reflected in the show’s clowning and narrative, which sees each character maintain an individual persona throughout the show.
The cast members (the Danish shows will feature home-grown dancer Peter Nielsen) are all individually chosen by the duo and they still try to keep a hands-on approach to the different touring troupes around the world. The show itself is physically demanding; the troupes are no strangers to scars as flying broomsticks and dustbin lids do inevitably go astray once in a while.
It might have started out as a 40-minute novelty cabaret piece, but it has evolved into a 120-minute, anarchic, adrenaline-fuelled spectacular theatre show: a show that passed the 5,000 performance mark in 2006 and shows no signs of slowing down, as the inexhaustible pounding performers beat the living daylights out of an unsuspecting rhythm section of familiar day-to-day objects. This is a performance that guarantees to inspire the awestruck audience members to hurtle headlong back to their own kitchens, strap a couple of pots to their feet and bash, bang and stomp to their heart’s content, while remaining completely and joyously oblivious to what the neighbours will say.