Music Box

The vexed question of ‘titles for paintings?’ is a very old friend. The works I produce are, by their very nature, ambiguous and non-specific. They can sit happily with double identities or no identity at all. After all, they are paintings, not pictures. Self-contained worlds in other words. To complicate matters, no matter what they are called, the subliminal undercurrent that pervades them all, is music.

‘Music Box’ is a collection of works where these links are quite obvious and I have provided a brief note of a more direct connection with particular bits of music. The proud owner of one of these huge works said: ‘forget all that tosh, I love the marks and the colour, sod the rest’. Never mind.
This is tricky territory; the Art Bollocks Cultural Police are always on the lookout for this sort of thing, and quite right too.

PETRUSHKA

This ballet/ burlesque was composed by Stravinsky in 1910/11. It tells the story of three puppets who are brought to life. They are Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor.
Petrushka loves the Ballerina but she rejects him in favour of the Moor.
Petrushka challenges the Moor but dies in the attempt to vanquish him.
As night falls Petrushka’s ghost rises above the theatre before collapsing in a second death.
The ballet is a rich tapestry of wonderful music, dance and design. It’s popularity remains undimmed, as does the attraction of this tragic figure.

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In Vino Veritas

Episode 7

Life in the theatre took a new turn. I was approached by the stage manager who sounded me out about working the follow spotlights during the next series of evening productions.
Why not? the dosh would come in handy.
These lights were based on a simple principle. They consisted of two carbon rods (about 2cm diameter) which were aligned at an angle of about 45 degrees. The high voltage electrical current flowing between them produced a crater in the lower carbon,
which in turn was the source of a brilliant light. This light could go from a ‘pin spot’ to a full flood, depending on the lens control. The carbons had to be ‘fed’ as the burning continued , one praying all the while that the top carbon did not come loose and land in the bottom of the lamp holder. All of this was conducted under ferocious temperatures, you could fry an egg on the lamp case, or roast a finger or two.
The whole caboodle was mounted on gimbals, so the beam could be directed wherever one wished, at whatever size. So far, so good . Two ‘operators’ were needed to cover the whole stage. This background info. makes sense of the following proceedings.

The opening evening of Swan Lake was upon us. I already had
several shows under my belt, so to speak, so I was ready for this. My colleague for the evening was Roland. This dear fellow was a ‘chocoholic’ an addiction to this confection going back for years. At any point during the day his Mae West boiler suit contained up to 10kg of assorted chocolates. This soporific substance, I discovered, has no equal.
He was an electrician and his colleagues feared for his life when he seemed to be drifting off atop a 10 metre ladder re-wiring the spot bars.
Finally, we we both had headphones to get our orders.

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Swan lake proceedings got underway with a total blackout. The orchestra concluded the overture and I got my first instruction from the director.
‘With the smallest of pin-spots, pick up the male dancer emerging from the wings on the prompt side of the stage’ Fine. Done. Ditto to Roland to pick up the female lead on the other side. NOT SO FINE. At this precise point Roland fell asleep. In so doing, he relaxed his grip on the lamp. The pin-spot, getting bigger, then drifted up to the proscenium arch, up and up until it came to rest on the theatre ceiling.
By now the stage director was apoplectic. His screams could be heard in the back rows of the gods. Roland came to. Desperately, he tried to put things right. The band played on…..Until the conductors desk and those of the first violins were illuminated by a thousand watt spotlight as Roland valiantly tried to find the stage.
As is (or was) the case in music based theatre, the actors or dancers will sometimes follow the music to gauge their arrival. In this case the entrance of the corps de ballet took place in total darkness, as they spilled, literally, on to the stage. One wonders what the collective noun is for a tangled heap of swans. I still had the male lead in a pin-spot, his facial incredulity was the only thing to be seen in the whole theatre.
The stage managers voice rose equally in volume and pitch. Then, a top C and a deafening silence.
I got home early that night.