Its funny how our knowledge of things are framed from our own perspective, particularly when we are young and very much in the centre of our own universe. Our lack of awareness regarding other people and their feelings is often seen as bad manners where really it is just immaturity and undeveloped empathy. I have written a few posts (with more to come) on my own perceptions of being judged, not being good enough and not fitting in – this is not another of those stories.
For many of my pre-teen years I was a Ballerina. OK – I attended ballet classes which is the same as being a Ballerina when you are under ten years of age. I studied under the eagle eye of Miss (Shirley) Jarrett who had a dance studio opposite Napier Intermediate School and later at The Anne Bradley School of Dance. As mentioned previously Missy was my dance partner and she went on to be famous. Although I was a ballerina, attended classes, passed exams, participated in competitions and large performances I did not really see my self as a Prima Ballerina but rather part of the corps de ballet. You see I couldn’t do the splits (you got chocolate if you could), my hair was too short to go up in a bun and I had a sickle foot. The sickle foot has never stopped me doing anything other than being a Prima Ballerina – hang I still don’t even really know what it is. However I digress.
The Ballet schools did a recital or concert every year at the Napier Municipal Theatre , which is an Art Deco venue of class and elegance, where we performed for our adoring fans – mainly parents and grandparents. Some of the dances were done by individuals, some by classes and occasionally a dance by the whole ballet school. Once such recital had on the program the Pixie Postman dance in which I was the Pixie Post man who danced among the trees and creatures delivering my precious cargo of brightly coloured envelopes. I had the lead role. Show – time…. I didn’t want to go out on the stage by myself – so I cried in the wings, the program was rearranged and when I was over my Prima Ballerina style tantrum, the show went on. What I failed to realise was that I was not on the stage alone – the trees and the creatures were all friends from my ballet class in their costumes, I wondered where they had got to. What also totally eluded my ego-centric tantrum was that they were jealous of me!!!!! I had the lead role. I was the chosen one. I was good enough. Sadly I didn’t realise this at the time. Sadly I continued to feel inferior when I wasn’t.
One of the other big performances we did as a ballet school was the Blue Willow story.
The dance followed this popular tale….. Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father (it was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class). He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The Gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves
We, in the corps de ballet, had Kimono style tops printed in the blue willow pattern, wigs made of black wool that had buns over our ears and pink artificial blossom sprays, fans hidden up our sleeves and the big dancers, the real Ballerinas, on stage with us. One of the trickiest parts of our dance required us to remove the fans from up our sleeves and open them, single handed, in one fluid motion…in time with the music and each other. We practised this over and over and over….and it is a skill I have retained to this day – not a very useful skill but none-the-less its a skill. Skilful too were our mothers who made all our costumes and tutus for these performances – once again, a big Thanks to my Mum.
I have memories of two books associated with the Blue Willow that were probably given to me around this time – The Tangram Tale: the Blue Willow story illustrated using tangram puzzle pieces and Blue Willow : The story of Janey Larkin, the ten-year-old daughter of a migrant family in California. Her most treasured possession is a Blue Willow plate that had once belonged to her great-great-grandmother. The picture of a bridge and a stream and a little house on the willow pattern plate represents the permanent home she dreams of.
The Blue Willow pattern, is a distinctive and elaborate pattern used on ceramic kitchen/housewares and I have developed a collection of this tableware that we now use everyday. Initially I thought it too ‘good’ to use everyday but I have come to realise that the good china and good glasses are there to be enjoyed up close not admired from afar…. and I am entitled to use the ‘nice’ things I have worked hard to own.
So What does the the Pixie Postman and the Blue Willow legend have in common?
- The Blue Willow story is English in origin, designed to promote the dinnerware and has no links to China – therefore is a big fake as far as legends go.
- The Pixie Postman appears to be a made up story also with the existence of Pixies being denied by many.