Thursday, 31 December 2015
Practise won't Make Perfect, but do it Anyway!
I challenged myself to write my blog today about the first New Year's Eve related Facebook status that came up on my feed. This turned out to be PumpinShark's, quoting people who tell him that he was clearly born with an ideal genetic make-up for bodybuilding. He refutes this, saying that it was work that got him his physique.
'Work is the panacea for all ills,' said Dr Johnson.
Tell that to the shoulda, woulda, coulda brigade.
There were always a number of the brigade's members working front of house at Covent Garden.
Michael, for example, the Central School trained actor. He never did his gatherings in and givings out on the breath; or his "Owst, Owkt, Owthd" on the lips; or his rib-cage spread fricatives on the floor. He was beyond all that. He was courting the muse these days - the muse, baby! He had a night off foyer duty to be a halberdier in Henry the Fifth on wasteland in Tooting Bec. He said he didn't expect to be coming back to ushering for very long afterward. This was going to be it. The muse would bring him the big break.
As it turned out he didn't come back to ushering for very long. The muse hadn't come through with the big break. Michael started drinking on duty and reciting Shakespeare's Prologues. One night the house manager asked him not to wear white socks with his black uniform shoes. Michael went up to the offices and made a mess of the house manager's desk. He got sacked.
David Beckham was first on the park and last off it practising corner kicks.
Jane Austen wrote and rewrote Pride and Prejudice over sixteen years, turning the kaleidoscope with each reworking until the pattern was as she wanted it.
Ermintrude the Cow in the Magic Roundabout obsessively rehearsed being a number twelve bus going down the Strand; commandeering boats, Dougal and mechanical diggers as and when she needed them.
True, there are exceptions to the long slog rule.
Rosa Ponselle. In 1918 She made her debut at the Met aged twenty-one in The Force of Destiny. It was her first ever role in opera, she hadn't had formal singing lessons; the first night press said that she was a vocal goldmine. Caruso's poker-buddy, William Thornton, had heard her as a nineteen year old singing light classics in a Meriden cinema while the projectionist changed the film reels. Thornton introduced her to Caruso himself, who arranged for her to audition for the Met, saying that he could guarantee that within a year she would be singing opposite him there. At the time she had patted him gently on the head, smiling nicely, afraid of making any sudden movements.
Joyce Grenfell. As yet unknown, she was at a dinner party in 1939 and imitated a visiting Woman's Institute lecturer's talk on "How to Make a Boutonniere out of Empty Beach Nut Husk Clusters". Fellow dinner guest, West End impresario Herbert Farjeon, put her in The Little Revue to perform the talk just as she had recreated it at the dinner table.
Pace these two exceptions to the rule, the rest of us have to put in the long, hard work to get things done.
People often tell me that I must have done ballet as a child, and that I have a natural facility for turning thirty-two fouettes.
No, I tell them, I first saw ballet aged twenty and became obsessed with dancing the role of the Swan Queen. Madame Galina Ballet Star Galactica led on from there. I worked for months and months on the thirty-two fouettes - and can still remember that night in the Royal Opera House foyer when I first got through them.
I had done my usual practise and conked out at fourteen. Dr Ismene Garrett, infamous ballet regular, wasn't in watching Sleeping Beauty, she was in washing her tights in the stalls circle ladies toilet. She stood in front of me, damp tights clutched in her left hand, tapped her forehead and told me to do the fouettes again, spotting on her, and I would get through them. She would help me - as she had been helping Royal Ballet dancers with performances since the spirit of Romantic Ballerina Marie Taglioni had possessed of her one July day in nineteen seventy six.
Taglioni could never forgive herself for Wendy Ellis's fall in The Two Pigeons - both wrists broken - and would weep lakes of ectoplasmic tears in Dr Garrett's aura, apparently. That night in the Royal Opera House foyer I fared better. In spite of my all-but-dead left leg I spotted on Dr Garrett's forehead and - oh my stars - I did them. Thirty two fouettes.
Make of that what you will.
I disagree with PumpinShark that you have to love something to work successfully on it. I dislike dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy (pictured above) because it always feels as though my legs are on back to front. But still had the pas de deux encored recently in Copenhagen, partnered by a classic press ganged volunteer from the audience: Elias, the Roskilden gas fitter!
As I was signalling to the sound technician to restart the track Elias asked me what was happening. He was ruddy, blonde, steaming but happily drunk, with my lipstick smeared forensics knew where by now.
'We're doing our dance again,' I told him.
He was philosophical, nodding. 'It is always best to double check, yes. At my day work I could be having someone worryingly off his flattened bottom, or be mounting him wrongly as we mate new rubber outlet with old taking-in ring. Or such.'
In which there is a lesson for us all.
Happy New Year!