Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Last night I was at the Old Vic Tunnels, an underground performance space beneath Waterloo Station, to see Tarot Drome, an immersive spectacle that draws together a number of old-fashioned popular cultural forms - tarot cards, bump and grind shows, freak shows, roller derbies, pro wrestling. The draw for me was Suri Sumatra (aka Heather Morris), a London-based neo-exotic dancer of mixed Scottish and Manadonese descent. I had never come into contact with her name before a trawl through the Southbank's website turned this show up. A Facebook connection put me on to the correct spelling of her stage name (she is credit on the Southbank site as "Sumi Sumatra") and I learned quickly that she studied anthropology at Durham University, lived in Scotland and Jakarta etc. etc.
Suri appeared in two parts of the show. In one part she was among a group of 11 or 12 characters portraying characters in the tarot deck in one of the tunnels. Suri was the Empress in Chinese-style head-dress and the multiple arms of Hindu deities and glanced seductively at visitors, and then touched them or had them touch put dirt on her legs, and fed them strawberries. She didn't speak, perhaps so as not to upset the illusion that she was an exotic visitor.
In the show's grand finale she re-emerges with the rest of the company as a roller derby skater-dancer, dancing around on a platform in a flowing gown and then in short shorts and a bra to the accompaniment of loud music.
Something interesting to talk about, maybe, but even after a couple of beers I left with a slightly uncomfortable feeling, not knowing whether this was a work of ethnic exploitation or a commentary about past practices.