The ballet dancer and the footie player

ballet-footie
Bob and Laurel at the ballet – photo by Belinda

As we settled into our ballet seats at the Lyric Theatre for Sunday’s matinee of Queensland Ballet’s Cinderella, two kilometres away another group of elite athletes were preparing for their own performance.

It wasn’t much of a decision, whether to take up our pre-booked $100 matinee seats or go to the last-minute NRL home game between the Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons.

At least nobody spills beer on you at the ballet,” I jested, as She Who Also Goes to The Ballet ironed my suit. I’d have done it myself but she’d already hogged the ironing board.

The performance – the timeless story of Cinderella, a fable of class warfare and how goodness and generosity should always prevail, did not disappoint. It was another flawless piece of work from the Queensland Ballet company and the Queensland Festival Philharmonic orchestra. The audience was dominated by children and parents/grandparents and the usual gang of gangly girls whose curious splay-footed stance gives them away as ballet students.

The choreographer (Ben Stephenson) played it for laughs, casting Vito Bernasconi and Camilo Ramos as the ugly sisters. Tradition requires that the ugly sisters be played by men. Bernasconi and Ramos tried their best to look ungainly and uncoordinated, somehow falling on their faces without injuring themselves. Stephenson laid on the magic tricks, with the old woman transformed, with a minor explosion and cloud of smoke, into a svelte fairy godmother. Later SWAGTTB nudged me: “Did I miss the part when she changed the pumpkin into a coach?” Feed two old people lunch outdoors in the Queensland sun and then put them in a stuffy dark room for a few hours – someone’s bound to nod off.

During one of two intervals, SWAGTTB demonstrated her classical education by recounting the gruesome Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, where the ugly sisters, in failed bids to fit into the glass slipper (and thereby become an idle rich Queen), mutilate their own feet.

I mentioned a favourite radio comedy skit from my childhood where the fairy story is told in spoonerisms – Rindercella and the Pransome Hince. It has an opaque provenance, this sketch, with some attributing it to Ronnie Barker. The latter may have performed it, but this much-recycled skit dates back to the 1930s. I’m sure Barker didn’t write it, as he was much funnier than Rindercella, which quickly becomes tedious and predictable. Eight year old boys find it hysterical, though.

Later, driving home and resisting the urge to listen to the rugby league ‘sudden death’ semi-final, we marvelled that QB could finance lavish productions like this, with top-level dancers and an orchestra. We’ve been subscribers for a long time and have seen this world-class company grow and prosper. QB’s annual report shows it made a net operating profit of $1.64 million in 2017. They did this with the help of some $5.38 million in ticket sales and $7.25 million from sponsors and State Government grants.

Not for nothing do I make comparisons between Queensland Ballet’s company of dancers and the injury-depleted Brisbane Broncos squad. Those of you familiar with arts productions will know about ‘notes’ – the after-performance meeting when the producer/director goes through the things that worked and the things that could have been better. I can’t imagine QB”s ballet master having too much to say except maybe chide someone for raising the curtain a few seconds before everyone was in place for the third curtain-call.

Post the 48-18 drubbing by the Dragons, I imagine Broncos coach Wayne Bennett had a few terse things to say to his squad who, well, just didn’t cut it. In the spirit of Rindercella, the Sisty Uglers (all Dragons forwards) bullied Rindercella (Broncos forwards and halves) into submission. There was no Gairy Fodmother to save the day. The final whistle blew and the Broncos turned into pumpkins and field mice and retreated to the sheds.

As Wayne Bennett said later, the squad was decimated by injuries all year including losing three top players for the season.

Now here’s something: you never hear a ballet company complain about the inevitable stress fractures or knee, ankle and back injuries. While dancers’ rarely suffer the traumatic torque injuries common among rugby players, the cumulative effect of injuries can be serious.

When key footie players are injured, there are constant media updates. For example, when Broncos playmaker Andrew McCullough was taken from the field on a stretcher a few weeks back with serious concussion, the updates and speculation on his welfare were continuous.

Rugby league players can all have a month or two off now before the pre-season training begins in November. All the while they are pulling in salaries which range from the minimum ($80,000) to $1 million a year for top players like Cameron Smith or Johnathan Thurston. The average NRL salary is $371,000.

After Cinderella finishes on September 16, Queensland Ballet dancers will be straight into rehearsals for The Nutcracker, which starts its season on December 8. It’s a big deal, being appointed principal dancer of a ballet company, but it’s not something you’d do for the money. Averages are suspect in such a small field, but it seems principal dancers in Australia can earn around $75k-$85k. The average salary for a company dancer is about $48k.

Budding footie players and ballet dancers start working on their craft at an early age. Their parents foot the bill and the time to take children to dance lessons or footie training. Both disciplines require intense training and perseverance, particularly through injury and rehabilitation.

Then there’s the ongoing expense of buying ballet flats ($25 a pair) or pointe shoes (up to $100 a pair). You could argue that parents of footie-mad kids are up for a new pair of boots every time Junior moves up a size. That’s around $200-$250 a pair for the best, or they can browse Gumtree for second-hand boots.

A hard-working ballet dancer, however, can go through 50 to 80 pairs of pointe shoes ($5,000 – $8,000) a year. Some companies buy dancers’ shoes, others can’t. Professional dancers and aspirants may have to factor it into their personal budgets. If you wondered why pointe shoes wear out so quickly, every time a dancer jumps on pointe, three times her body weight is carried on the tip of her big toe. QB has a donation page where you can help out with this inevitable expense.

In arts as in sport, many have expectations, but only a small percentage make the grade to top billing. The difference in sport – and this is particularly noticeable in soccer and American basketball’s NBL – the top-level salaries can be huge.

Contact sports like rugby union or rugby league attract the support and big dollars from television broadcast rights and sponsorship and, more recently, from betting agencies.

Meanwhile, it is up to supporters of the arts to make sure superb creative companies like Queensland Ballet can cover their costs each and every year. I can’t see anyone promoting a televised State of Origin dance-off between State ballets anytime soon, even though it’s not a bad idea.

 

 

An eye for an eye – sports injuries and brawls

eye-sports-injuries
Eye chart image courtesy of Community Eye Health, CC https://flic.kr/p/cenNDu

The news photo of rugby league player Dylan Walker’s fractured eye socket made me feel anxious, like I get when I have an eye infection or it’s time for the annual glaucoma test. If I cover my left eye with my hand, I can navigate my way around the house, but that’s about it. No reading, watching TV or movies; definitely no writing, although I know vision-impaired people who have found ways around reading and writing.

What the auld aunties called a ‘gleyed ee’ or lazy eye was diagnosed in the late 1940s. I don’t remember wearing an eye patch when I was two, but I’ve seen the photos. It didn’t work. I say this only as an explanation if you passed me in the street and I did not say hello, it is possible you passed by on my right side.

Yes, so a serious injury to my left eye would probably see me lining up for the blind pension, although as I understand it, the aged pension replaces the (non-means tested) blind pension when the recipient reaches retirement age. An essay for another day, perhaps.

Last week the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Flinders University produced a report on eye injuries in Australia. The report shows 51,778 people were hospitalised due to eye injuries in the five-year period, 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2015. Two thirds of these were males. Falls (35%) and assaults (23%) were the most common causes of eye injuries. The most common type of eye injury was an open wound of the eyelid and periocular area (27%).

However, the report also showed that 86,602 people presented to an emergency department with an eye injury in the two-year period, 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2015. Only 1% of these cases (866) were admitted to hospital.

Sports-related eye injuries were seemingly uncommon by comparison, with just 3,291 males and 595 females reporting that the injury was sustained while participating in a sporting activity. However, information on what activity resulted in the injury was not reported for 69% of cases, so this is likely to be an under-estimation.

Of the known causes, more than one-third (37%) of males were participating in a form of football when they sustained an eye injury. Trail or general horseback riding (12%) was the most common sport-related activity resulting in eye injury reported by females. Over half (55%) of the sports-related cases resulted in an orbital bone fracture.

Such was the case during the Melbourne Storm-Manly rugby league game when a melee turned into a serious scrap between Manly’s Dylan Walker and the Storm’s Curtis Scott, with Scott throwing several punches, one of which broke Walker’s eye socket. Scott was sent off – red-carded as they say in soccer. Walker was given 10 minutes in the sin bin (for throwing a punch) and then had to be assessed for a head injury. Manly player Apisai Koroisau was also sent off for 10 minutes for running in and throwing a punch at Scott.

The National Rugby League (NRL) has been cracking down on such behaviour – Scott was the first person to be sent off for punching since 2015. All rugby league players know if they throw a punch they will at least be sent to the sin bin; angry flare-ups in recent years have tended to be of the push and shove variety.

But whether you follow rugby league or not, it was a bad look, for the sport and for all sports. Imagine the conversations over breakfast.

“Right, that’s it,” says Mum, whose son Billy (8) has been pestering her to play footie. “If you want to play sport you have two choices – soccer or table tennis. Those league blokes are thugs.”

Discussing the Manly/Storm fracas on the Sunday Footie Show, former Jillaroo Allana Ferguson commented: “If they did that in King’s Cross on Saturday at midnight and someone was injured they’d be off to jail.”

She makes a valid point.

A study last year by Dr Alan Pierce from La Trobe University found that repeated concussions in rugby league players have a long-term effect. He compared 25 former league players in their 50s with a control group of a similar age. The men carried out cognitive tests to measure memory and attention spans and dexterity tests to assess motor skills.

“What I’ve found is that the responses of retired rugby league players were significantly different to the healthy controls with no history of head injury,” Dr Pierce told the ABC.

The NRL took steps in 2015 to introduce mandatory head injury assessments (HIA), where players who have suffered a head knock have to leave the field for 15 minutes and be assessed by a doctor. If found to be concussed, they are not allowed to return to the field that match. An NRL injury surveillance report by Dr Donna O’Connor found that head injury assessments increased from 210 in 2015 to 276 in 2016, largely due to strengthened concussion guidelines. Sixty-six per cent of these cases were cleared to continue playing in 2016, compared to 54% in 2015.

If you have seen the excellent Will Smith movie Concussion (about brain injuries in American football), you may well ask why it took the NRL so long to act.

Cheek and eye socket fractures are common injuries in rugby league. They come about through (accidental) contact in tackles, as big bodies collide. Sometimes it happens through ‘friendly fire’ collisions with teammates.

Such was the case with Broncos forward Josh McGuire, whose injury in 2011 required surgery and he is now effectively blind in one eye.

Sports Medicine Australia says the incidence of sports-related eye injuries is low, but severity is usually quite high, as injuries to the eye can result in permanent eye damage and loss of eyesight.

“Research has shown that 30% of sports-related eye injuries in children have the potential for permanent loss of eyesight.

“A blow to the eye from sporting equipment, fingers or balls can lead to injuries ranging from lid haemorrhages or lacerations, corneal abrasions, retinal detachments and hyphaema (bleeding inside the eye) to permanent loss.”

Rugby league is rated a ‘moderate’ risk sport (in relation to sustaining eye injuries) compared to high-risk categories including baseball/softball, basketball, cricket and racquet sports. Any sport that involves small projectiles moving at speed is considered high-risk.

Our family GP once told me most serious eye injuries he had encountered were caused by squash balls and champagne corks.

If you lose an eye, the alternatives are an ocular prosthesis (a glass eye) or an eye patch, the latter having a bad press courtesy of movie bad guys. Think John Wayne’s bullying Rooster Cockburn in True Grit, Adolfo Celi’s menacing Emilio Largo in Thunderball, or John Goodman’s itinerant bible salesman Big Dan Teague (O Brother Where Art Thou).

If it came down to it, I’d opt for a good quality prosthesis, although the price (from $2,500), makes a $10 eye patch look like a bargain.

I’d make it a different colour just because I love that line in the Paul Kelly song about falling for a girl with different coloured eyes.

In the meantime, I will keep wearing Australian Standard safety glasses when I mow the lawns or use the brush cutter. You should too.

 

Rugby league vs State of Origin

state-of-origin
No State of Origin for Broncos halfback Ben Hunt, who returns from injury for the NZ Warriors game on Saturday (Benji Marshall in the wings) Photo courtesy

Dear readers, it’s time for those of you who don’t like rugby league or sport in general to get back to posting cat and dog photos on Facebook. Today we ask the unthinkable: why not scrap this faux State rivalry  called State of Origin and let footie players get back to their own teams?

Each year at this time, professional rugby league players face a massive conflict. If you’re good enough, fit enough and have that perceived ‘spark’ you’ll get picked for State Of Origin.

Kick-off for the first of three State of Origin games is this Wednesday evening. It’s Queensland vs New South Wales, although not really. You can be born and bred in Cunnamulla, but if your first senior game was played in Dubbo, then by default you become a NSW representative – a “Cockroach”. Likewise for the Queensland team. If you played your first senior footie for Brothers in Brisbane, you’re a Cane Toad.

But as Brisbane Broncos Chairman Dennis Watt says, “It’s always part of every player’s dream to play for their State and play for their country. If they get picked, nobody says no.”

Mr Watt says the State of Origin period (May 31-July 12) is a difficult management issue for the Brisbane Broncos, who have six senior players in the Queensland team for State of Origin I.

“It’s a big impost on the club but also an opportunity for younger players coming through.

“The fear is that top players will be injured. Traditionally we (Broncos) have not done well through the Origin period, with the exception of 2015.

“My other fear is that the junior players will eat too much at the buffet,” he quipped.

A touring group of 45 players, coaches and support staff left Brisbane this week, flying to Auckland for the match against the New Zealand Warriors. The group included 20 players from the Broncos under-20 team, who will also play on Saturday. All travel, accommodation and ancillary costs are covered by the NRL.

“The downside of State of Origin is that we are missing some of our best players,” he said. “We haven’t been playing great footy for 80 minutes (this year), but there’s a bit of grit about the team.”

Mr Watt, a former newspaper executive, says he is enjoying the challenge of helping Broncos chief executive Paul White oversee the construction of the Broncos’ new $27 million headquarters at Red Hill.

NRL.Com’s New Zealand correspondent Corey Rosser, previewing Saturday’s game at Mt Smart Stadium, seemed to be predicting a Broncos win. He reminded readers of the Warriors 30-14 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons last week, while Brisbane scored six tries against the Wests Tigers to win 36-0.

Six Broncos players and Warriors veteran Jacob Lillyman will miss the Round 12 match in Auckland due to State of Origin commitments. The Broncos will be missing Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday. Also missing from the squad is hooker Andrew McCullough (injured).

Halfback Ben Hunt returns from injury, joining utility player Benji Marshall, who has had limited playing time for the Broncos in 2017. Newcomers or players who rarely get a run include Jai Arrow, Jonus Pearson, Jaydn Su’A, Travis Waddell and George Fai (making his first-grade debut). The Broncos named Tevita Pangai Junior, Jamayne Isaako and Joe Boyce as reserves.

We were at Lang Park stadium in Brisbane on May 13 for the ‘double-header’ rugby league event. We got there at 5.15 and the first game between The Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm had already started. The crowd, which later swelled to 44,127, was already vocal. There were conflicting cries of “Go Billy, Go” or “Hayne Train.” If you want a quiet Saturday night out, don’t do it to yourself.

It is interesting how a football stadium becomes a microcosm of the broader city. There were a few “pre-loaded” young blokes intent upon drinking themselves into a stupor, a few young women wearing heels and nightclub clothes instead of the ubiquitous Broncos fan jumpers. There were also happy family groups behind and in front of us, one woman willing to take our photo ‘in situ.’

“Don’t try posting that to Facebook from here, mate” she advised. “Everyone’s on it and it will take ages to upload.” She was right. The Titans made an unbelievable comeback and beat the Storm 38-36.

Then we were between matches. The Manly cheerleaders came on the field in tiny white shorts and halter tops and did a dance routine. Many people streamed out and thronged to the bar. There were queues for food, queues for the loos and those not otherwise engaged were checking their phones or checking out the tiny white shorts.

When I returned to my seat, the Little League game was in progress. These keen young kids play across a small section of the field at half-time. Even with the under-6 kids, you can spot the future stars. They are the ones who run straight and hard, tackle properly or who show footwork and pace. One particular young lad crossed the goal line four times. There are a few different age categories of mini league kids between 6 and 10. Hard to know which is which when there’s no commentary, just a seemingly muddled group of kids getting carved up by the three or four who know what’s going on.

“Go, son, go” came a shout from somewhere behind me, “Go! You beauty.” (as the kid scored between the plastic goal posts.

Then Manly (boo) and the Brisbane Broncos (yay) ran out for the main match. We were up and down like that Whack-A-Mole sideshow game. Every few minutes we were standing, flipping back our seats back while someone struggled their way to the other end of the row, carrying four dribbling beers in a plastic tray. This went on all night, even though drinks are expensive at Lang Park (sorry, Suncorp Stadium). She Who Listens to the Radio While Watching Footie shouted “Why don’t you sit down and stay sat.” I pointed out that as she had headphones in her ears, the remark may have been louder than she thought. “Good,” she mouthed.

Despite a dismal first half, when Manly piled on 14 unanswered points, one of the best coaches in the game (Wayne Bennett) must have said inspiring words at half-time. The Broncos came back from a 14-0 deficit to win the match 24-14.

As 44,127 people were being squeezed like toothpaste out of Suncorp Stadium’s various exits, I had that panicky feeling like when you’re about to go under anaesthetic but nobody has given you pethidine yet.

If you don’t like crowds and noise and can’t afford decent seats, you’re far better off watching rugby league on TV, or listen to the game on ABC Grandstand. You’ll get a better word picture of the game and even details often missed by Nine’s commentators like who replaced who from the bench (and why). And you’ll never hear discussions about whether players should wear their socks up or down.

Shut up, Gus!