Friday, April 23, 2010

No Sweat

Bill Rigney, a former major-league shortstop and manager, once stated that while fans appreciated spectacular plays on the baseball field, professionals appreciated the routine. In a similar vein, Oleg Kolzig, who was the long-time number-one goaltender for the Washington Capitals hockey team, asserted that when he made a spectacular save, it was because he had been doing something wrong. If he had been in the perfect position, the stop of the puck would have been routine.

Consider the tournament golfer who has saved par on a difficult hole by sinking a spectacular putt from the edge of the green, causing the spectators to go wild. His putting feat merely covers up the fact that in his approach play he has done something wrong: perhaps a tee shot into the rough or a chip into a bunker. Compare his play to that of a competitor who has holed out a gimme three-footer for his par on that hole. He has hit the fairway, avoiding the rough and the bunkers, with accurate shots to land on the perfect spot on the green. One would hope that a few of the spectators who whooped at the first golfer’s putt would nod in appreciation of the solid, routine professionalism of the second golfer.

In my ballet days (no, not me in a tutu)—let’s amend that to ballet-going days, my favorite (male) dancer was Jacques d’Amboise of the New York City Ballet. One of the aspects of his work that I appreciated most was that no matter how difficult the task that George Balanchine laid out for him, d’Amboise seemed to accomplish it without showing us the effort involved. No “I’m going to do this grand jeté now; notice the oomph I’m putting into it.” The effortless effort was, of course, the result of hours and hours of effort in behind-the-scenes practice to make the spectacular routine.

I think it is worthwhile comparing the accomplishment of the routinizing of performance with the exertions of those needy singers and actors who beg us for our love with performances that cry out: “Look at all I’m doing for you! Look at my blood! Look at my sweat! Look at my tears!”

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