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May 04th 2009 print

Philippa Martyr

Music without instruments

Kitchen sinks, polypipe, empty tin cans, bin lids, water, newspaper, brooms, dustpans, brushes, boxes of matches, hubcaps, and all the other detritus of any industrial workplace are transformed by STOMP09 into a symphony orchestra. 

STOMP09, the new tour of the multi-award-winning percussion dance theatre group, provides nearly two hours of music without a single instrument. Kitchen sinks, polypipe, empty tin cans, bin lids, water, newspaper, brooms, dustpans, brushes, boxes of matches, hubcaps, and all the other detritus of any industrial workplace are transformed into a symphony orchestra. 

STOMP09 has a total cast of twelve, of whom eight perform in any given show. They are multinational and multiracial – English, American, Irish, German, and two New Zealanders. They are a joyful and uninhibited lot with enough bounce and stage presence for ten times that number of people. 

But they are also quite clearly a highly disciplined, extremely imaginative, multi-talented and hard-working lot. You can’t come up with ideas like that, or produce and sustain rhythm, juggling, acrobatics, comedy, mime and dance like that, without an artist’s eye for the potential lurking in the everyday world, combined with grueling hours of practice. These performers believe completely in what they are doing, and they do it to perfection. This is why they play to packed houses. 

You can’t be an artist at that level without total commitment. And this is why arts like dance, opera, or music should continue to be subsidized, while many small theatre companies shouldn’t. No amount of money can pay for the amount of training and work put in by the most insignificant member of a ballet corps from childhood onwards; for the hours of practice demanded of a back-row violinist in a halfway-decent symphony orchestra. 

STOMP09 was a hugely enjoyable and faith-in-human-nature-reviving piece of work. And it reminded me all over again that what the theatre-going public wants to see is talent flexing its muscles: a finished product, the result of hard work, discipline, creativity, and imagination. It does not want to hear the half-edited meanderings of essentially unimaginative playwrights; to see poorly-rehearsed productions with inexperienced and lazy casts. 

Art is communication; it is an inside-and-out eye-opening experience, and this kind of art can open one’s eyes and ears to the music in everyday life. And it was real melody, not the deliberately anarchic crashing of bin lids; it had a recognizable beginning and ending, structure, rhythm – music. 

Who could ask for anything more?