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STOMPing Grounds


Percussion dance troupe delights in San Jose

By Phil Collins

Music--once upon a time, it was something people played rather than simply listened to. Pianos were household fixtures, sing-alongs too. But with the attrition of music programs in schools and the mass franchising of commercial music--ever more synthetic and homogenized--our relationship to music has narrowed to that of mere consumption. Music has become a spectator art, and in the process, we've lost the beat.

Enter Stomp, the percussion/dance extravaganza that is playing to capacity houses on Broadway and across the country via two separate tours, one of which played at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts last week.

One would have to have been in a cave these past months not to have at least heard of Stomp. It's loud, wild fun--and it is edifying and inspiring for a culture that has become musically inert. With only a handful of performers and a dump-truck load of everyday percussion objects, Stomp supplies more bang for the buck than any heavy-metal band could hope to muster. Clocking in at a little under two hours, the show manages not to overstay its welcome. One can take only so much banging, and the performers, too, have their limits--the highly aerobic numbers call for Olympian endurance.

And then there is the comic element, which is crucial to the show's popularity. To co-creators Luke Cresswell's and Steve McNicholas' credit, the humor is engaging to both children and adults. Between set pieces of varying ensemble size, individual players perform entr'actes that provide opportunities for characterization as well as a means for introducing new objects of resonance into the show. Lanky and seemingly laid back, Anthony Johnson emerged as the audience liaison early on. Following the show's knockout opener for industrial brooms, Johnson moved downstage, and with two brisk hand claps, established the show's single audience-participation motif.

Anthony Sparks supplied abundant physical humor as the hapless soul who invariably dinged when others were donging. Spark's extensive acting experience and superball buoyancy kept the element of lightness aglow throughout. Steven Davis, sleeveless and brawny, was the main muscle, and his solo moments preceded Stomp's most stomping workouts. The cast's gender imbalance of two women to six men could be improved upon; a greater percentage of women would help lighten up the show's reliance on competitive scenarios, which became tedious at times.

Of the many high points was a piece developed upon the tappings of plastic tubing. Quiet and handsomely composed, it offered the evening's only venture into actual melodic modes, which in itself was a delicious relief from the unpitched episodes. Particularly breathtaking to watch was a piece for two players who swung before a wall of brilliantly lighted metallic surfaces (hubcaps, lids, signs) with mallets flailing. In another sequence, players marched about drumming on aluminum sinks that were harnessed over their shoulders.

The show's premise that music may be created from the humblest of means (in this case junk items, household containers and the human body) reminds us that music's fundamental ingredients are innate to our species, and within anyone's reach. Rhythm courses through our veins with each heartbeat, and where we go with it is limited only by our imaginations.

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