Tombola, traversing the unknown
11:00am, Fri 16 Mar 2012
Tired, hungover, and emotionally frazzled, I was initially wary when I arrived at Queen’s Theatre – being a matinée, there were a couple of school groups present, and I was not in the most agreeable of moods… so I was a bit perturbed when I discovered that the Tombola girls – Heidi McKerrow, Colette Maclaren, and Laura Summers – had a creative introduction for us.
Entering from the far side of the theatre, we were guided behind the eventual stage, where the idea of “tombola” as a lottery was explained; as a group, we rolled a die four times: 1, 4, 5, 6. We were then through an inexplicable and abstract forrest; across a patch of sand, then the dance floor, past the dancers in their bright primary colours (and mismatched wristbands). It’s a curious start, and warms me up a little – the different textures underfoot grounded me somewhat, dragging me out of my early-morning funk.
Once we’ve walked through the stage and seated ourselves, the performance begins: big bold beats with industrial rumbles (kudos to composer Evan Morgan) supports a vibrant and bubbly opening, though it’s not until the second piece that the visuals really begin to excite. With great use of front-lighting (leading to beautiful large shadows at the back of the stage), the dancers creep around on a bear hunt, constrained by a spotlight… unfortunately, their voices aren’t able to fill the space, so much of the narrative is lost; mind you, they were battling against the ambient noise of building construction outside.
The following piece was even more exciting, as they all perform the same moves but at seemingly different frequencies; the final segment sees the stage bathed in blue light, with burbling water sounds creating an underwater environment. The dancers cluster together, balancing and stretching on and around each other to form weird shapes onstage, and odd creatures created with side-shadows.
In the brief Q&A session that followed – which I dominated on the Q-side, in the absence of any engagement from the school kids – Heidi (who directed Tombola, and was clad in red – with Laura in yellow and Colette in blue) indicated that the sense of the “unknown” that underpins the performance is not just for the audience – the random nature introduced by the die keeps the dancers in a state of mystery, too. And it wasn’t just the ordering of the different segments of the dance that were randomised; the frequency of some of the elements in the first piece were also affected by die rolls.
After a grumpy start, I really quite enjoyed Tombola – there was a freshness and effervescence from the cast that somehow justified the more oddball aspects of the performance. My only concern would be that maybe the idea of the randomness was better than reality; but I’d have been more-than-happy to sit through the show again to find out, so I guess that says quite a lot.