The rhythmical movement of The Gambler consists of a complex accelerando of events proceeding ineluctably towards a tragic end; it is driven forward by the suspense arising from the key scenes at the roulette table. This is the dramatic engine of a micro-musical-theatre project in the form of a solo percussion performance. The performer interprets Dostoevsky's characters - but particularly the Gambler -, who interact, fight and move about in a limited space: the hotel in the novella, the articulated percussion set in the concert.
The Gambler (and narrator) Aleksej Ivànovic, tutor to the large, old-style Russian family on holiday, is addicted to the excitement of a game of chance, hypnotised by the roulette wheel and desperately in love with the mysterious Polina Aleksàndrovna, a sophisticated young lady tormented by her authoritarian father. The co-protagonist is the babboulinka, the old grandmother, who appears mid-action, borne about on her chair by her servants, when all her relatives were counting on her imminent demise as the source of funds to pay for the good life they can no longer do without. She is a hot-tempered, energetic, charismatic 70-year-old woman who detests the whole family and denounces the duplicity of all their relationships, coolly resolving to lose all her wealth at the very roulette table favoured by the Gambler, whom she selects as her mentor.
Every object in the set is part of an imaginary comprehensive structure representing the room of the hotel where the Gambler is now abandoned and alone. The set is an organic mechanism full of outmoded odds and ends and objets trouvés, with sonorous old-fashioned wooden cases and many accumulations of things hanging on the fragile walls, a sort of still life of the now departed family that only underlines his definitive solitude.
The percussionist, inside his space, sculpts the different "voices" of the novella in the form of memories. He represents the grandmother in absentia by imitating her virtual voice, a high, hysterical, passionate female voice which quotes some fragments from Dostoevsky's text.
The virtual dialogue is fragmented and dramatic, a chance framework of agitated past conversations between the Gambler and the Grandmother, showing how these two, with their passion, their individuality and the peculiar freedom that age or addiction can provide, ruin the entire family.
The percussion set also presents a vertical development, allowing the performer to inhabit three different levels: the floor, composed of fragments of marble, stone and wood, where he accumulates boxes and props; a middle level, composed of wooden planks with a dilapidated spring mattress on which he stretches out, a water basin and an old family dulcimer on which he plays Russian folk songs for his own pleasure.
The third level, in the upper part of the structure, consists of a suspended table which bears the great roulette wheel. This top level of the structure represents the outside world, as well as his dreams and hopes and the crazed passion that engulfs him when he's gambling.
Sometimes, in a transport of delight, he picks up piles of pearly chips and hurls them to the floor, then leaves the room and, in his tap-dance shoes, imitates solos danced by Fred Astaire.
The performance spans a wide range of percussive nuances, making frequent use of extreme textures, with whispered accents reminiscent of butterfly wings and dramatic explosions like a helicopter fleet suddenly invading the space:
two apparently disparate denizens of the air that nonetheless share one flight mechanism and seem to explore inaudible but mirrored sound limits.