“I think it vibrates in your soul for a long time,” says Justin Myles, a performer with the American touring cast of Stomp, which plays a two-night stand at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium next week. He’s been on board with the soul-stirring production for the past two years, but the show itself is in its 13th year at New York’s Orpheum Theatre (making it one of the longest running off-Broadway shows) and actually dates back two decades to a humble start in the British seaport of Brighton.
“My first impression was seeing a bunch of people chilling in some back alley,” Myles relates of his encounter with the show, long before he signed on as a dancer and percussionist. “When people come to see Stomp, they come into our world. They forget about the outside world.”
But ask the performer to sum up the show, and he’s at a loss for words—not because Stomp leaves the audience underwhelmed but because (unlike story-oriented musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof) seeing the experimental, rhythm-driven production is a very personal and subjective experience.
Stomp creators Luke Cresswell (a former busker) and Steve McNicholas (an actor, musician and writer) were inspired by found instruments, street theater and experimental music, such as ‘80s German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. Together, Cresswell and McNicholas formed avant-garde touring group Pookiesnackenburger that in turn produced a Heineken commercial involving drumming with trash cans (or “bins,” since they’re Brits). “It proved to be the starting point for Stomp‘s climactic dustbin dance,” the Stomp Web site explains.
In fact, the trash-can lids have become synonymous with the dance troupe. Myles notes that his character, whom he calls “Particle Man,” is festooned with the metal discs, but Stomp arrangements combine any number of unusual instruments, from brooms to paint scrapers. And it’s not just about finding the strangest tool with which to produce a sound—it’s about how the performers put those tools to work.
“Every character has a role,” Myles explains. But that character is up to the dancer, depending on his mood, influences and inspirations. “It’s not like, ‘Tonight the role of Potato Head will be played by Nicholas Jones,’” the performer notes.
Particle Man, known for contorting into interesting shapes and incorporating plenty of spins into his delivery, might be a high-energy performer one night and more reserved the next. “People who’ve been doing the show 10 years have never had the same show,” says Myles.
To add to the individual feel, dancers design their own costumes, based largely on their street wear. Each number is choreographed and well-rehearsed, but there are also small pockets of improvisation in which performers can showcase their unique styles. A commitment to service work and community-betterment initiatives round out Stomp‘s plan for keeping the show, nearly 20 years in the running, fresh and current.
“We have done a lot of promotional, nonprofit stuff,” Myles says. Along with the Stomp Out Litter initiative (which works well with the trash-can theme), there’s also Stomp Out Hunger. “Stomp gives a lot back to the community,” he adds. “In New York City, there’s Stomp Day.” (The latter was originally designated on March 21, 2004, by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)
As far as finding deeper meaning in the show or its side projects, Myles suggests that what you see is what you get—not that that’s a bad thing.
“It’s what you perceive,” he offers. “Everything has a message. Maybe someone just showed up and had a good time. Maybe we spoke to someone and said, ‘Yes, you can do this, too.’ There’s a definite positive vibe.”
what:Internationally known dance and percussion performance
where:Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when:Tuesday, Jan. 29 and Wednesday, Jan. 30. 7:30 p.m. ($18, $38, $53. 251-5505)