For two of the most dynamic shows hitting Boston this spring, rhythm's the thing.
In the international hit "STOMP," at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre April 20-21, anything you can hit, shake, bang together, or scrape is fair game. Since 1991, this rousing show has been winning awards and fans by making music with everything from matchboxes and Zippo lighters to push brooms and shopping carts. And the act of making music engenders a lively, sophisticated choreography among the show's eight performers, who don't just stomp but climb and lunge, skitter and twirl, often in tight configurations and enlivened by riotous comic interplay. The updated show promises some surprises this time around in two new routines, one featuring the huge inner tubes of tractor tires.
Where "STOMP" slyly appropriates anything within reach as an instrument, the performers of "Body Music," presented by Celebrity Series of Boston on May 5 at Sanders Theatre, focus on only one multifaceted instrument. It's the instrument we all share in common, the human body. Feet tap and slide, hands clap and snap, and voices chant, chatter, whistle, and sing. Mining traditions from around the world, the promoters call the show a "cross-cultural conversation." But this rhythmical tour is also a tightly choreographed ballet among the seven performers, who connect and disconnect with one another, inviting us to "see music/hear dance."
Both shows defy you not to catch the groove and move along in your seat, with rhythm the key ingredient. "Rhythm is the root of everything, from conception to death," says Keith Terry, founder/artistic director and performer of "Body Music." "It's a vehicle that puts people in synchronicity, and when that happens, it accelerates relationships, creates celebration, makes grieving bearable . . . all the arenas of life and death."
"There are no cultural boundaries," says "STOMP" rehearsal director Jeremy Price, who has performed with the show for 15 years. "Rhythm speaks to everyone."
Both shows are generally tightly choreographed, with blocking that has to be spot on and music and dance that are deeply intertwined. The performers move to make music, and making music creates its own visual physicality. "We are the links between the two forms," Terry says.
That said, the shows' similarities may be outweighed by their distinctive differences. "STOMP" is rowdier, and its explosive, high-energy hijinks have made it a bona fide arts phenomenon. The show has been touring the world for more than 26 years, with productions currently on the road in the United States and Europe, and a sitting production at Manhattan's Orpheum Theatre, now in its 21st year. It's a big show of up to 20 different numbers incorporating a huge range of found-object instruments. The show has a street-wise vibe often fueled by sly sight gags, memorable characterizations, and games of one-upmanship, like jousts with wooden poles and garbage can lids. The most iconic number involves performers "wearing" 40-gallon drums like giant platform shoes, hammering on them with long mallets as they march in unison.
"Body Music" takes a more subtle, intimate approach. Growing out of the international Body Music Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it's more of a touring concert by seven performers who hail from the United States, Cuba, Greece, France, and Spain. Because the distances between performers limit rehearsals and touring, the show is ever evolving. The current presentation is a new incarnation of the first production, which premiered in Paris in 2016.
And unlike "STOMP," which has no vocal element beyond grunts and shouts, Body Music celebrates the human voice, with performers drawing on the traditions of their respective cultures. "We can have melody and harmony, which opens up to a more complete musical experience," Terry says. "The main ingredient is to bring out the emotion in the material. People comment that they laugh and cry — sometimes at the same time, and I love that the show moves people. Lots of shows wow me but don't move me. I'm more interested in that."
At the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, April 20-21. Tickets $49-$85. 866-348-9738, www.bochcenter.org
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, May 5. Tickets $40-$60. 617-482-6661, www.celebrityseries.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.