Watching Life Is Rhythm, I was reminded of one of my favourite shaggy-dog stories, about a missionary in a jungle village, driven mad by incessant day-and-night drumming. To cut to the punchline, he finally begs the headman of the village, who gives the standard answer, "Drums stop... very, very bad," then explains: "Drums stop... bass solo!"
The drums do stop now and again during the 80 minutes of the Barcelona-based Camut Band's show. But the sound of percussion never does. When the djembe, udu and assorted other gourds and skins aren't being beaten, there's the rat-tat-tat of high-speed tap dance, the chhht-ch-ch-chhht of sand-dance, or a sort of Gatling-gun scat singing, "K'taa-k'taa-k'ting," of rhythm rather than melody.
Rhythm-based dance shows are hardly unusual these days: over a decade after its inception, Stomp is playing once again barely a mile from Life Is Rhythm's temporary berth in the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. But this one is purer. Apart from a bit of so-so mime with an invisible bouncing ball, there's no real choreography to speak of; everything above the ankles seems pretty informal, devoid for instance of the language of flamenco. It's the rhythms that matter, just these five or six Catalan blokes drumming with their feet and voices as well as their hands.
And that's where my bad joke comes in. In some ways, it all seems little more than just something to do. Yes, Lluís Mendez is a gifted jester-tapper (with an unsettling resemblance to actor Eli Wallach); Guillem Alonso is a young hunk who banishes all memories of Wilson, Keppel and Betty when he sets foot in the sand-box; and Toni Español is skilled both as an instrumentalist and as a deadpan joker when getting the audience to clap along with some of the polyrhythms (it's astounding how many adults are unable to count to six and then stop). But ultimately, this blend of Latin and African percussive patterns isn't compelling enough to take us to any new places or summon up any greater power. You admire the talent, but you sense that talent is more or less all there is to it.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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