Earth Tremor on Stage?byHandley_Page©
It was a long time before the whole story came out. The story, oft-clad in rumour and half-truth, of a minor disaster on a little-known stage. It was a story that became a cause célèbre for the proponents of Health & Safety.
It is true that Questions Were Asked about the curious earth tremor.
It is true that the dancer, Michael Michaelov (whom I knew as Mick), was directly involved.
It is true that the Ballet was composed following revelations about the cruelty in one of Stalin's Gulags.
As it happens, I knew Mick quite well. We'd both worked 'down the pit' as electricians but got laid off when the Government had a fight with the Union. We always were fans of the ballet and Mick was one of the best dancers in the locality, if not the county. Tall and perfectly formed, he'd modelled for statues of heroes and Greek gods at art college. His wife, Doris, was the most sought-after woman of her day; she was admitted by most blokes to be "bloody gorgeous." Their daughter took after her while their son was more compact than tall. Strangely, there was no rancour among the other young men at all when they wed.
When Georgiev, that mad Russian producer, came round asking for 'extras' for a film ballet he was making, Mick was chivvied by the lads into volunteering. He soon got back into the old fitness routine. He was seen jogging everywhere and was often to be found in the old dance studio (a converted Industrial Ball Mill), practising "on the bar." He could be found with us, naturally, on rather fewer evenings in the Bar.
Georgiev has always been a bit of a mystery; his work was all very 'experimental'; rather than getting himself known first with a more conventional repertoire, he plunged into modern ballet, complete with weird music and lighting. All very moody, but not easily enjoyed, as it were. He brought the full crew with him; the local hotels were full to capacity and chefs were asked to prepare some strange foods for the principals.
The plot, if that's what it could be called this time, involved the Rhine maiden who escapes the Gulag with her lover, a Guard, so the action involved a lot of prancing about either side of a fence. The highlight was her escape to his arms as they were both shot by the other guards on the orders of the Chief Warder who was very enamoured of her.
Mick was invited to be the understudy of the leading man. As this involved doing the dances on the "outside" of the fence, Mick was delighted; all these pretty girls prancing about in front of him? Funnily enough, Doris wasn't a bit apprehensive about it.
The performance was received with mixed reviews but a well filled auditorium. On the forth day, however, the Leading Man was struck down with stomach trouble. It later came out that he'd eaten the local food and the meat pie had not been heated properly. "The chips were fine," he was quoted as saying.
So Mick, who enjoyed watching a ballet production, now found himself on stage for real — and being filmed doing it ("that'll be one for the grandchildren in a year or three," he said).
He managed very well, according to the local paper's dance correspondent. His high leaps were well executed and of good precision. He got to the point where Gladys, as we called the Rhine Maiden, took off like a missile and Mick was to catch her mid-flight. They were supposed to share a doomed kiss as the rest of the guards shot at the pair.
Gladys was a very pretty maid and admired by all the men who met her.
The snag was that, unknown to most, Gladys had turned her ankle and was not able to do the leap. Angela took the leap.
Now, whilst Gladys could best be described as "sylph-like" with the sort of curves than made most men whistle in admiration at the better creations of the Lord, Angela is one of the more traditionally–built Rhine maidens; the sort that are conjured up when thinking of Wagner's "Das Ring der Nibelungen." She was what might politely be described as 'fairly chunky' in build. She was fine when pointing the spear at the hero, sharpening the spikes on her magic helmet or polishing the steel of her breastplate. But she wasn't the first girl you thought of when long ballet leaps are considered. The Chorus of Lohengrin, perhaps, but not a manoeuvre involving actual flight.
The problem was, of course, that decisions had to be made very, very quickly, and Angela was the nearest to the chute; and she knew how it worked, propelling the dancer at good velocity across the stage. As Mick put it later, "Eighteen and a half stone of steel-clad Rhine maiden at considerable speed can make for some quick thinking: Half Emm Vee Squared is a lot of energy, you know; particularly in her case".
Mick saw a flying Rhine maiden of substantial dimensions heading his way. With a speed of thought that surprised even him, he took half a step to his left, leaving Angela with nothing to land on but the stage, as the Guards fired off their shots. Predictably, Angela was not a happy bunny, and gave vent to her feeling with as much volume as if she'd been wounded rather than killed. Mick just collapsed on the deck as he was supposed to. Mick later said he'd nearly gone deaf with her shrieking.
The curtains closed to appreciative, if slightly confused, applause. The ambulance turned up in a few moments with unusual discretion and Angela was carted off to the hospital "for tests."
The Props mistress was less than impressed by the treatment offered to her steel outfit.
The impact of Angela on the stage caused what the local papers called a "seismic event" which was registered at the local Meteorological Station and was thus reported automatically. Within hours, several scientists turned up at the village loaded with instruments of amazing complexity. They then plugged them into the ground at intervals. Miles of wires were laid along the roads and the geo-scientists all looked at their instruments, shook their heads and then wrapped the cables and bits up again, bundling them all into the back of a large van.
"An unusual one-off" they cried as they fled whence they came.
Our government kept a lofty silence until the media picked it up and soon the overseas press were getting in on the act. "Has Britain a new type of bomb?" wailed Pravda. Izvestia posed a similar question.
France and Germany declared that unless the UK produced the evidence, chapter & verse, they'd "develop their own small weapons." For reasons still unknown, the New China Peoples Daily said nothing, which in the opinion of some UK papers was as damning as it could get, hinting at collusion and, quite possibly, espionage.
Then some fool (probably a news reporter looking for a story) called the Health and Safety people, who were Not At All Happy. The Inspector went through his routine, checking this, ticking the boxes on his form, and then moving on to the next item.
He checked the chute and interviewed all those who could and did use it. He was disappointed to note that all were fully clued up about its operation and what to do in the event of a problem. He ticked several more boxes on his form.
Despite all manner of announcements, press releases, speculation, and talking heads on local TV, nothing wrong was discovered. In fact, Gergoriev was complimented on his approach to safety, something that some were not keen to see broadcast. But one of the reporters, a stringer for a national paper, always made sure that the correct facts were stated and eventually the matter dropped.
Angela was released from hospital via the back door, to confuse the waiting reporters who'd been alerted by some clot in the Press Relations department. A statement later proclaimed that "tests revealed nothing broken and she'd be fine after a few days rest."
When the film was shown on TV, Georgiev was proclaimed a genius and Mick was offered a job at the Royal Ballet. However, he was also offered a good job more locally so he stayed with us. Visiting ballet folk called to see him and he kept up with his exercises, much to the delight of Doris, who wangled tickets to all manner of performances.
Angela was in a bad mood for ages afterwards but took to heart the advice of the hospital dietician, and in about a year had turned into a spectacular beauty. She went down to London and the last any of us saw of her was she was on page 3 as 'Nina of Nottingham.'
But we all have a copy of the recording, and play it when we need a good laugh.