One of two new routines in “Stomp,” onstage at American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater this week, features suitcases on wheels. (Courtesy Steve McNicholas)

‘Stomp’ tromps on

Fun, percussive dance extravaganza returns to The City

If it reverberates in a pleasing way, chances are good that Brits Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas have banged it, smacked it or otherwise made it as noisy as possible. It’s all in a day’s work when your work happens to be keeping the “Stomp” empire alive and stomping.

Since 1991, Cresswell and McNicholas have been the creative force behind an imaginatively percussive show in which dexterous dancers/drummers turn anything and everything — brooms, lighters, garbage cans, automotive equipment, the kitchen sink — into musical instruments. The energetic debut of “Stomp” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has led to nearly three decades of international success.

“Stomp” had a memorable two-plus years at San Francisco’s Marines Memorial Theatre in the early 2000s and has made occasional Bay Area stops since. The show, with some new routines, ends a seven-year absence with a short eight-performance run at American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater Nov. 5-10.

On the phone from New York, where “Stomp” recently celebrated its 25th anniversary off Broadway, creators Cresswell, 56, and McNicholas, 63, say they couldn’t have foreseen that their raucous, exuberant show would have such staying power.

“We were hoping it would have a life of about three years on the festival circuit,” McNicholas says.

“But then it was like putting a sail on a ship. It just took off,” Cresswell adds.

“More like a dinghy with a hole in it that sprouted big sails,” McNicholas says with a laugh.

Though the formula for “Stomp” remains the same — turning unlikely, everyday objects into musical instruments — the show’s creators have learned a few things over the last 28 years about what works on stage and what doesn’t.

“You can make music out of anything,” Cresswell says. “But is it interesting to listen to or watch? If you perform, you’re communicating with other people so there has to be more. You’re looking for music in the theater and theater in the music.”

One of the new pieces, the one with rolling suitcases, was inspired by spending what Cresswell describes as “years and years” stuck in airports. “We all do such a dance with our luggage,” he says.

“We couldn’t have done this routine 10 years ago,” McNicholas notes. “Wheel technology and durability have improved quite a bit, and that has liberated us to make a sort of ‘50s spy movie kind of routine.”

The other new piece has been nicknamed “Poltergeist” for a scene in the 1982 movie when objects are flying around a haunted room. The premise, Cresswell explains, is “standing in a vortex and playing all the things flying around you. It’s all about the sounds you’re playing, the rhythms you’re making and the movement of the people creating the vortex. You end up watching the rhythm as much as hearing it.”

“Stomp” creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas describe one of the show’s new routines, nicknamed “Poltergeist,” as making music out of objects swirling in a vortex. (Courtesy Steve McNicholas)

Just because a new routine becomes part of the show doesn’t mean it’s finished. “You have to allow them to grow with the performers,” Cresswell says. “The new stuff just keeps evolving.”

“It’s like the human body recycling itself every seven years,” McNicholas says. “It’s good to do that with the show as well.”

IF YOU GO

Stomp

Where: American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5-7, 8 p.m. Nov. 8, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 9, 1 and 7 p.m. Nov. 10

Tickets: $39 to $125

Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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