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Stomp it out and make some noise

By Orli Ben-Dor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003

The beat goes on this weekend at TCC

If music is indeed the universal language, "Stomp" speaks fluently. The stage show that uses innovative music-making techniques will be the talk of the town this weekend when it trudges into Tucson with five performances at the convention center downtown.

The performers won't be doing any of the talking, though. The troupe members of "Stomp" use everything from brooms to Zippo lighters to create a beat that lasts 100 minutes in concert. It doesn't count on a complicated plotline or well-developed characters to keep the audience rapt. The wordless ÷ but far from silent ÷ show relies on the universality of rhythm to captivate the audience.

"'Stomp' has no language barrier. The show is something we all share. Our hearts beat in rhythm. We walk in rhythm. We talk in rhythm. Everything we do is in rhythm," said John Sawicki, a "Stomp" troupe member.

That the show has no definite storyline is not to say "Stomp" and its members don't have stories of their own. The phenomenon that literally swept viewers away, first in the U.K., then all over the world, started in Brighton, England when Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell caught the attention of passerby as street performers known as "buskers." Soon they stopped performing on the street and hit the festival circuit and a British television series. Then, in the summer of 1991, "Stomp" was born.

It only took six years before HBO picked up the beat and produced the Emmy Award-winning television special "'Stomp' Out Loud." Since then, "Stomp" has filmed educational videos, provided

background music for the motion picture "Tank Girl" and racked up a long list of credits for a relatively new production.

One can attribute the success of "Stomp" to more than its anomalous concept and savvy co-creators. The performers, though they change so frequently the "Stomp" Web site does not even display a group picture of the cast, offer an enthusiasm and energy that send "Stomp" to its own level. The show invites the audience to share in the thrill of feeling the beat and making music with its interactive structure.

"I just love performing. I'm pretty much completely happy on stage. I'm making people forget about their problems. They get to make music with us and there are lots of smiles. I love my job," Sawicki beamed.

With Sawicki's history, he should love his job. The native New Yorker grew up where rhythm ruled under his roof.


$36 to $43 if you want to "Stomp" it out live at the TCC.

Visit a Ticketmaster outlet,, or call 321-1000 to get tickets.

"I'm a drummer. My dad was a drummer. He brought me up playing drums. I've been playing since I was five," Sawicki said. But being confined to rocking out on a drum set won't cut it if working with "Stomp" sounds appealing. "Stomp" performers fuse choreography and percussive skills into a performance art requiring intense mental and physical coordination.

Professor and Director of Percussion Studies Gary Cook calls "Stomp" "art music." Cook also points out that while "Stomp" may have paved the way for percussion-oriented shows to be a part of mainstream artist series, the so-called "found percussion" phenomenon on which "Stomp" bases its concept is not entirely new. In fact, since the '30s, avant-garde composers have written scores that call for things like coffee cans, flower pots and washtubs. The differences between the mad success of "Stomp" and the industry-appreciated successes of percussion pioneers of yore like Lou Harrison and John Cage lie in the marketing strategies of "Stomp" and the particular sound that it offers, according to Cook.

"'Stomp' took these ideas and popularized them and made them into mass public entertainment," Cook said. "It's groove-based, so you can relate to it whether you're into rock and roll or jazz more than serious art music. Almost everyone would enjoy it."

The challenge of keeping each performance fresh never ends. The improvisational nature of the show demands that no two performances run exactly alike, forcing the "Stomp" creators and troupe members to stay on their toes and never miss a beat.

"They had this idea and sat and brainstormed: How creative can we get?" Cook said. Certainly the members of "Stomp" have been creative, with a plunger percussion section and synchronized sweeping. The brainstorming sessions Cook suggested don't take place in some magical office, either. Everywhere the troupe members go, they pull ideas from just about anyone to stay on the cutting edge, Sawicki pointed out.

"I've seen 12- or 13-year-old kids playing (percussive instruments) in Central Park. You have to keep up. It inspires you to become a better performer," he said.

With the help of media successes, and thus wild popularity and accessibility, "Stomp" inspires people everywhere, including students and professors right here on campus.

"'Stomp' makes me want to be a better performer at my own instrument. It shows playing can be a lot of fun, too," said David Duplessis, a music education and trumpet performance sophomore. Cook said "Stomp" has influenced his students, too.

Whether or not you are a musician in the traditional sense, you can speak "Stomp"'s language by banging, bumping, clacking, thumping and sweeping just about anything that will make a sound.

The bottom line: Pick a beat and make some noise!

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