The Pound of Music

Audiences for STOMP, the dance and percussion spectacle that swept the globe in the 1990s, range in age from toddler to octogenarian.

It's no accident these hooligans of dance have such broad appeal. Before STOMP, there was stomp from A to Z: Appalachian Stomp, Kansas City Stomp, Louis Armstrong's Mahogany Hall Stomp, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's Okie Dokie Stomp, and Zydeco Stomp. I can still do the Dovells' Bristol Stomp -- the rage for pre-Beatlemania teens. By the time STOMP, the phenom, arrived, the stomp concept was stamped on our collective consciousness like an S.O.S. laid out in gunpowder on a beach. All STOMP's creator had to do was set a commercial match to it. And so, once again, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts presents STOMP at the Orpheum Theatre in a six-day run beginning June 19 -- a sort of pre-Independence Day terpsichorean fireworks.

Luke Cresswell, a Brit whose name sounds like he should have a magic act, is the guy who lit the fuse of this sure-fire draw for every class, age, sex, ethnicity and race. It's entertainment completely devoid of all meaning, depending instead on a molten core of pure kinetic and aural energy. SHAZAM!

Cresswell had already been a working busker for some years, entertaining passersby in Paris and London for a few francs here, a quid there. He and partner Steve McNicholas culled a bunch of guys from the underground music clubs of Britain to form Pookiesnackenburger, a popular busking band of the '80s. Cresswell had also partnered with Benjamin F. Tin in the "junkpercussion" duo Urban Warriors, and from these exposures caught the attention of Heineken's marketers. Cresswell and McNicholas produced their famous Bins (the oil drums they bounce off of in every imaginable way) commercial for the lager company in 1986, and the rest is history. STOMP was born, and imitators in ensuing Gap, Target and numerous other dance commercials have spawned a new choreographic genre. You could call it McDance.

Now, with several McStomps trotting the globe, Cresswell and McNicholas must choose performers from a much wider pool. They tap well-known professionals such as Sean Curran, who dips into STOMP for a few weeks to earn money to help keep his own modern dance career afloat. But performing in STOMP for long periods requires youth and spirit to endure the pace onstage and the rigors of the road. Each cast consists of eight members and four "swings" or understudies. These teams are like Little Rascals grown up into sexy and lovable ragamuffins of the stage.

One such barely grown-up rascal, Columbus "1492" Short, hails from Phoenix. He talked with me by phone from Nashville, where he said he was having the time of his life. "My mom is Janette Jones. She's a talent manager in L.A., but me and my two little brothers grew up here [Phoenix] with her and my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins who still live here."

The 19-year-old Short has been touring with STOMP for a year and a half -- a long time to be on the road. "Yeah," he agreed, "but not when you wake up in the morning and say, 'Do I get paid for this?' I mean, I'm like traveling around the world as a minister of music."

Short already has a long career behind him, starting with classes at Scottsdale's Studio One taught by Melissa Watkins. He performed at the Herberger and Valley Youth Theater before dancing with Britney Spears and 'N SYNC at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1999. "I've done a lot of TV commercials and had principal roles in The Wizard of Oz, Guys and Dolls and Grease," he says, but this show is by far the most taxing. "We get up late, go to the gym for a workout, rest or walk around the town we're in. Then we get to the theater about 5:30 and run through the entire show for about an hour and a half, before going on. Afterwards, we go out to eat, and maybe have a note session.

"It's very informal. We'll talk about timing, lighting, any special problems in that particular theater we may have to cope with."

What was the most untypical day he's had on tour? "Oh, just about three months into being a cast member, me and another guy were robbed at gunpoint in Atlanta. It was about 11:30 at night, and we felt lucky he just robbed us and let us go."

Another time, "One of the bin bitches, that's what we call the ones who jump up on the bins, passed out and had to be dragged offstage while one of the swings replaced him. Stuff like that happens. This is a rough-and-tumble show, with a great element of chance, spontaneity. A swing could come in and boost the energy of the show or drag it down, you never know."

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Merilyn Jackson