‘STOMP’ returns to Pioneer Valley, surprises audience

By Morgan Hughes

Official STOMP Facebook Page
(Official ‘STOMP’ Facebook Page)

“STOMP” returned to the University of Massachusetts for the first time in nearly a decade, once again bringing the echoes of iconic trash can drums and applause to the Fine Arts Center stage from April 12-13.

The performance, while predictable and redundant at times, brought surprise and excitement to the stage. It was fierce, cheeky, suave, emotional and action-packed.

It was incredible how each performer’s independent, barely noticeable movements and sounds came together to create something that rises in intensity until it filled the entire room.

Unexpected pauses and transitions in the rhythm kept audience members guessing and made them laugh.

The acts that stood out ranged from the tribal, primitive sound of the broom sticks – that were amplified by light that reflected the shadows of the characters like cavemen chanting and dancing around a fire – to phallic jokes meant for the adults in the audience (sinks draining into a bucket placed ironically in front of the males holding them).

Another notable performance used Zippo-like lighters, as the sounds of the lighters flicking open and igniting on created the sound, while the flame created a pattern of light and dark similar to Christmas lights during the holidays.

Other interesting sequences included an act with crinkled plastic pipes sprinkled with humor perfect for kids and adults alike, and one of the last acts using newspapers and boxes the performers sat on that employed the most vocal sounds and the most immature – but guiltily enjoyable – sense of humor.

Cade Slattery, 19, joined the troupe in December 2015 as the newest and youngest performer in “STOMP.” In an interview with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian before the Fine Arts Center performance, Slattery advised, “Watch all the characters. Watch how they interact and how by the end of the show they all come together.”

Since there’s no words in “STOMP,” it’s like a challenge for the audience. You have to adapt and figure out what they’re thinking,” he added.

Each character’s personality shined in subtle body movements. They spoke without words. You could feel each character feeding into one another – testing each other, getting a feel for another, picking on the weaker, yearning for attention, being dismissed – all of them entirely unafraid to cross boundaries.

It’s easy to see which characters are the underdogs of the cast in the performance. They are often made fun of and shoved to the side by other characters, but they someone still seem to bring the spotlight to them.

The buff main character utilized his skill, agility and endurance in several solos. By the middle of the show, this got old. I was upset to see the show end with him doing some sort of clapping and tapping. Was it meant to be ironic, and how long must he have spent learning all different angles and styles of clapping? Even with his ending call for audience participation where he taught different rhythms and angles to clap at, this portion felt predictable and overdone.

The performances also contained some noticeable mistakes, especially when things were thrown across the stage. Timing and accuracy faltered at times, but the technicality and skill required of a performance like this allows for those kinds of mistakes. Flawless transitions of stage and rhythm made up for the miniscule mistakes throughout several acts.

It would be useful to a particularly interested future audience member to sit near the front, as it can be hard to decipher important facial expressions or glances that help tell the story of the characters on stage.

The last time “STOMP” came to the Pioneer Valley, Slattery was a five-year-old boy living in California. Now, he performs across the country with the group he dreamt of being a part of.

As a child, Slattery took percussion classes at Arts in Motion, a performing arts studio in San Diego. Taught by former “STOMP” performer Chris Rubio, students learned percussion techniques much like the ones the troupe uses to surprise their audience and break down the walls of conventionality. He recalled generation after generation of students auditioning for open positions in “STOMP” groups, until finally it was his turn.

“The dream was kindled,” he said of his experience with Rubio.

The dream may have been kindled for other kids in the Amherst audience like it once was for Slattery. Only time will tell.

For now we can predict, by the playful stomping and clapping to the beat of audience members’ own rhythms as they exited the auditorium, that this performance at least inspired a little music in everyone.

Morgan Hughes can be reached at [email protected]