Stripped down

Archana Ram

A rumble is shaking the quiet calm of downtown Evanston. Intense thumping, snapping and clapping vibrate through the stage, onto the floor and into the bodies of the crowd. The members of Boomshaka, a swarm of thunderous beat-boxers, drummers, tap dancers and percussionists, flood the stage.

This year Boomshaka is stripping down the excesses of theatrical production for its spring show “Breakdown” at the McGaw YMCA Child Care Center, 1420 Maple Ave.,which opened last week and runs through this weekend.

The performance group, which uses ordinary objects like garbage cans and water jugs to create music, wanted to create a show that displays the bare bones of Boomshaka without the frills.

“Everyone kept asking, ‘How are we going to top last year?'” says Weinberg junior Rati Gupta, one of Boomshaka’s three directors. “Instead of going bigger, we just broke it down and got smaller so we got to go back to where we came from.”

This year’s show consists of 15 pieces. Some are pure dance, others feature just percussion, but most combine the dancers’ sultry moves with reverberating, energetic drumming.

Six transition pieces use percussion and dancing to set up the next piece. Among the six, one is a lesson on “How to Boomshaka” and another features breakdancing in slow motion. In addition, two transition pieces put a spin on the word “breakdown” by utilizing the unexpected beats of S.O.S. messaging and a battle between a tap dancer and percussionist.

“Last year’s show was very flashy,” says Communication junior Stephanie Paul, another Boomshaka director. “This year the venue is smaller, and it’s a little more intense.”

For fans of last year’s computer segment, in which a keyboard and textbook created enough rhythm for the members of Boomshaka to get down, watch for a saloon-style card game that gives a new meaning to shuffling.

Boomshaka also threw comedy and mime into the mix this year. One segment features a little bit of snapping, a little bit of stomping and a lot of corny jokes — did you hear the one about the olive?

Boomshaka ensemble member Jefferson Jones, a McCormick junior, describes this year’s show as a little less drumline and a little more rhythm and hip-hop.

“How Boomshaka changes is based on the people who are in it since we write our own music and choreograph ourselves,” Jones says.

Planning for the show began in early October when Boomshaka held auditions. Members picked up the pace in January when they began petitioning ideas to the directors and choreographing and composing pieces.

“Once Spring Quarter starts, Boomshaka owns you,” Paul says.

Communication sophomore Tarah Ortiz choreographed pieces for “Breakdown.” With other members, Ortiz clapped and sang out rhythms on a piano to create the number.

“It’s an unconventional music-writing experience,” she says.

McCormick senior Kate Solinger attended Friday’s 8 p.m. show to support Jones.

“It was a lot more dancing than I expected” Solinger says. “I loved the percussion and the comedy they introduced that they didn’t have before.”

Jared Kassebaum, a former Boomshaka member who graduated from McCormick in 2004, booked his plane ticket from Charlesburg, W.Va., in February for the show.

“This was the most ‘Boomshaka’ of all Boomshaka shows,” Kassebaum says. “It was the most true and the most pure, and it really blurred the line between drummer and dancer.”

Created in 1998, Boomshaka has its roots in another student production — Waa-Mu. When a segment of 1997’s Waa-Mu show called for a “Stomp”-esque sequence, two performers used cafeteria trays to create their rhythms. Soon after, Boomshaka was born.

The group has since taken their beats across the nation, with pitstops at MTV’s Total Request Live in Manhattan and, most recently, Los Angeles and San Diego for spring break, where they performed at schools with impromptu shows at streetside beaches.

“(During spring break) we’re together 24/7,” Paul says. “Those are the times we get to know each other and love each other as people and performers.”

She says the spring show is the culmination of a year’s worth of efforts.

“This is our NBA championship,” Paul says. “This is what it all leads up to.”

“Breakdown” is playing Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for students, $7 for faculty and staff and $10 for general admission. They are available at the Norris box office or at the door.

Medill sophomore Archana Ram is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]