It’s been a little while since you heard those clanging sounds, but Stomp is back in Denver in all its explosive, syncopated glory, with its cast of incredible percussionists who treasure the old adage about one man’s trash…
The troupe still doesn’t look at everyday objects the way the rest of the world does. In its hands, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters (we’re not sure about Grouchos and Harpos) and the general detritus of the 21st century take on a life of their own. Stomp, created and directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, is an exploration of the outer limits of rhythmic invention. It’s a Pipe (read drain pipe) and Drum (read anything) Corps for our age.
And speaking of age, it has not withered Stomp’s clatter—or fun. Stomp—a concatenation of sound and skill—is back with its rhythms and drumbeats intact.
The same goes for its nonstop movement of bodies, objects, sound—even abstract ideas. There’s no dialogue, speech or plot. But music? Absolutely. Uncommon music, created in nontraditional ways—with every day objects ranging from matchbooks to every household object you can conjure up. You’re bombarded by a caterwauling noise that under any other circumstances you would choose to shut out.
But not here.
Here all is syncopated and choreographed with the precision of an army bugle corps minus the bugles and by the fertile imagination of buskers or street performers from the streets of Brighton, England. Brighton is the place of origin—the spot where Stomp’s creators hail from and where they dreamed up this utterly inventive, unexpected, whacked-out show.
So sit back, relax, tap your feet, clap your hands. There’s only fun to be had here—no political statements, no dialogue to misconstrue, nothing beyond the sheer, surprising sights and sounds of the moment, from the ringing of hollow pipes to clashing metal weaving its spell, and industrial strength dance routines involving a lot of supremely well co-ordinated bodies.
Hold on fast to those hubcaps as you zip yourself downtown to swing along with Stomp!
STOMP, a unique combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy, was created in Brighton, UK, in the summer of 1991. It was the result of a ten-year collaboration between its creators, Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas.
They first worked together in 1981, as members of the street band Pookiesnackenburger and the theatre group, Cliff Hanger. Together, these groups presented a series of street comedy musicals at the Edinburgh festival throughout the early ’80s. After two albums, a UK TV series and extensive touring throughout Europe, Pookiesnackenburger also produced the highly acclaimed “Bins” commercial for Heineken lager. The piece was originally written and choreographed by Luke as part of the band’s stage show; it proved to be the starting point for STOMP’s climactic dustbin dance.
• 1991 — STOMP previewed at the Bloomsbury Theatre (London) and the Assembly Rooms (Edinburgh). Won the Guardian's “Critic's Choice” and the Daily Express “Best of the Fringe” Award.
• 1991-1994 — Played to capacity audiences around the world culminating in a sell-out season at Sadler’s Wells Theatre (London). Received an Olivier nomination for “Best Entertainment” and won “Best Choreography in a West End Show.”
• 1994 — STOMP began its run at the Orpheum Theatre (New York). Won both an Obie and a Drama Desk award for “Most Unique Theatre Experience.”
• 1995 — Two US touring companies were formed.
• 1990s-2000s — STOMP has been featured in or created the Tank Girl movie soundtrack, Quincy Jones’ album “Q’s Jook Joint, ” Showtime’s Riot soundtrack, commercials including Coca Cola’s “Ice Pick” and Target, Nickelodean’s “Mr Frears’ Ears,” “Brooms,” the Academy Awards, HBO’s “STOMP Out Loud,” Sesame Street’s “Let’s Make Music” special, and the PULSE: a STOMP Odyssey IMAX movie.
• 2002 —Entered London’s West End at the Vaudeville theatre and performed as part of the Royal Variety Show for the second time.
• 2004 — New York celebrated 10 years of continuous performances of STOMP at the Orpheum Theatre by renaming 2nd Avenue at 8th Street: STOMP Avenue.
• 2006, STOMP’s New York production passed its 5000th performance mark.
• 2007 — The original creators were asked to create and produce the Lost and Found Orchestra, which takes the ideas behind STOMP to a symphonic level to mark 40 years of the Brighton Festival. It was also performed at the Sydney Opera House.
• 2007 — STOMP OUT LOUD opened in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino with an expanded cast and performed inside a new $28 million theater specifically created for the production.
I’m back in Kampala after a week in Gulu. It amazes me when I think back on everything that I experienced in that week! And it all happened because two years ago, back at my theatre, we decided to do a play called Ruined. There were many points of connection between Lynn Nottage’s play and my trip. Salima, one of the main characters in the play was abducted and forced to serve as a sexual slave to one of the militias. Many of WGEF’s women share that same horror story. Abducted persons, many of whom were children when they were taken, are still returning from “the bush.”
I met so many powerful women on my trip, survivors all, who share their strength with Mama Nadi. Karen Sugar, the founder of Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, keeps saying that women will always rise to the challenge when given the opportunity and some support. Given the example of Grace, who rose from the grim reality of the internally displaced person’s camp to win local elected office and hopes to run for Parliament in 2016, I’d have to agree with her. Some of the women are currently forming an agricultural union. Throw a drama festival and playwrights will emerge.
Watching the women perform their monologues, dramas and dances last Saturday affirmed not only the empowering effect of self- and group expression, but also the galvanizing effect drama can have on those gathered to witness it. This tradition of performing to heal a community goes back as far as the beginning of theatre itself. The theme chosen by the women of a woman’s right to own land, previously lurking in the wings, has now (post drama festival and town hall meeting) been pushed center stage. And there is no turning back.
So where does the Denver Center take its relationship with WGEF from here? For one thing, Karen is hoping to bring one of the rising playwrights to Denver this winter. What about bringing one of our commissioned women playwrights over for the festival? Or what about staging a play from the western canon with these women, a play that would connect with the social impulse behind their dramas and have a little humor, something say by Brecht or Dario Fo. It could be translated into the local language and adapted to have local resonance by one of the festival’s emerging playwrights.
To return to Ruined, the tragic fact is that in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo the conflict still rages. It has been called the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Here in Uganda, now that the conflict has ended, women are busy trying to heal past wounds and move ahead with their lives. It’s extraordinary to see how far some of these women have already come. And it’s heartening to see the impact that theatre can have in creating a voice for women.
Sunday, Sept. 25
I need to start today’s entry with a retraction. This is what can happen when someone like me who’s just arrived in a country tries to write from a position of knowledge and with a degree of certainty. The story that I told about the destruction of the main market was in fact mostly fiction based on some dramatic misinterpretation on my part. The riots in Gulu were relatively minor (as opposed to those in Kampala) and based on the high price of fuel and food. The local riots were not violently put down, and the main market was razed by the authorities in order to build a more modernized one. However, the larger riots in Kampala were violently put down by military troops, some of whom used live ammunition.
OK, with that behind me I can move forward to talk about yesterday’s drama festival. The event took place on an open field behind an elementary school, with a raised stage and covered seating areas. Luckily the weather played along. The whole festival, with ten groups performing, lasted a little over five hours with an intermission in which lunch was served to the over 250 spectators and participants. Performances included plays, monologues, and a combination of song and dance. Given the theme of a woman’s right to own land, many of the plays shared a similar plot line: when a woman’s husband dies, she is thrown off her husband’s land with her children. With nowhere to go, she returns to her parents who likewise cast her out. Then she finds out that the constitution actually gives her the right to own land and the play ends on a positive note.
The dances, coupled with singing, were traditional and often accompanied by drums or other percussive instruments. The dances were generally performed on the empty ground in front of the six-foot high stage, charging the audience with an electric energy that was infectious. So much so that women from the crowd would climb down from their chairs and join in. This spirit of celebration turned the day into one big party. There was an overriding feeling of togetherness and support linking the various groups.
A large group of local children filled the open spaces between the stands and watched with rapt attention. At the end of the day, as people were leaving and things were being dismantled, the deejay cranked up the music and the kids took over the stage, creating their own joyous after party.
The festival is called “Kikopo pa mon” which, in the local Acholi language, means “Creative a voice for women” and this event, performed for a mixed crowd that included local community leaders and politicians, husbands, sons and daughters, achieved just that.