‘Rhythm is a universal language’ | Stomp!

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Steve McNicholas, co-creator and co-director of Stomp – the percussion-based show that has taken the world by storm, and that will be making its way to Valletta to form part of the Malta International Arts Festival this year

When did the Stomp! crew first form, and what was your initial set-up like?

We tried out the idea in the summer of 1990, it was very rough and ready, and only had a few members of what would become the original cast. When we did it for real, the following year, for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we had a clearer idea of the kind of mix of people we would want to be involved.

We were incredibly lucky with those first seven performers (becoming eight early the following year), in that we had a real mix of percussionists, dancers and physical comedians that set the tone for the future. And we were lucky to have a great group of people that were on the same wavelength, in that they saw the power and energy of the idea, but also saw the absurdity and eccentricity in it. The first three years of the show were with the same cast, including Luke Cresswell, with myself as “outside eye”.

What would you say is the driving principle of the Stomp! show?

That rhythm is a universal language everyone can understand, and that music can be made by anyone with anything!

Did you ever expect the show to be such a success? Why do you think it resonates so much with people?

No, we never expected anything like the global success we had: in fact, we expected it to be less successful than our previous work, which we saw as being more commercial. What we didn’t allow for was the way we removed things that can divide audience response, such as dialogue, or clear musical styles. What we kept was rhythm, which everyone appreciates whether they are into jazz, classical, reggae or house music, and humour… but it’s a knockabout, physical humour, almost like the humour in silent movies, that everyone can appreciate...

Part of the show’s appeal is just how visceral and effortless it seems. But could you tell us a bit about the musical techniques you employ?

It’s really about layering rhythms. Each performer has a different skill set, but they all make an equal, however simple, contribution, so that many interlocking individual rhythms create a more complex whole. There is a lot of counting in the show, and we often talk about bell-ringing, as every piece involves numeric cascades… each performer has a different set of numbers in their heads. We explore rhythm, but we avoid getting stuck in grooves: it’s all about dynamics, and change, not necessarily a repetitive beat.

Are you looking forward to performing in Malta? What kind of vibe are you expecting?

We are really looking forward to Malta, we have personally enjoyed scuba diving in Malta and Gozo on several occasions, so have long wanted to bring the show here. The venue looks amazing: we have performed in amphitheatres in Sicily and Athens, so we know the show can work really well in that kind of setting, and it makes for really special experiences for everyone involved – we’re very excited!

Stomp will be performed at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Valletta on July 23-25 at 21:00. Tickets are at €30. For more information log on to http://maltaartsfestival.org