Tag Archives: disabled

The one-legged dancing bull fighter who had a golden tassel affixed to his stump

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Double-legged former dancer Anna Smith in her hospital bed

The So It Goes blog’s occasional Canadian comedy correspondent Anna Smith has just been released from St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver after being admitted to their emergency department on Valentine’s Day to get a Dacron patch sewn onto her aorta… She tells me she wants “to warn healthy young people about the dangers of enduring  years in murky subterranean caves that pass as limelight”.

When in London, before her move to the Dominion of Canada, she helped Sir Gideon Vein run the now ironically-named Open Heart Cabaret. She used to dance at the Nell Gwynne club in Soho during the day, the Gargoyle Club at night and then spend her time at the old Comedy Store until the early hours.

If she had died under the surgeons’ knives in Canada, she had wanted her obituary to include the fact she had performed with Julian Clary and the much lamented late David Rappaport and that she had been forced to learn to play the accordion as a child and appeared on Canadian television with Andre the Giant.

“Now,” she tells me, “I’ve been given a heart-shaped pillow as a physiotherapy tool and it says Open Heart on it….Veins, hearts, sternums being sawn in half and wired together.”

She also tells me she was given “orientation at the hospital for the cardiac rehab program… The walls were adorned with vapid monotone posters dedicated to mind-boggling philosophical questions like WHAT IS AN AVOCADO (printed on green paper) and NUTS – WHATS IN ‘EM ? (printed on brown paper). Now that dietitians and physiotherapists can produce their own amateur pamphlets with the push of a print button, there is no longer any need for the Department of Health to waste public money on artists or copywriters. I sat though a dull PowerPoint presentation about Cardiac Health, which I made bearable by mentally substituting the word Catholic for Cardiac: WHY CATHOLIC PATIENTS NEED FIBRE… HOW CATHOLIC PATIENTS RELIEVE STRESS…”

Anna tells me that recent local Vancouver news includes the story that “Immigration Officials abetted by a local television station and the National Geographic TV channel raided a downtown building site where they chased, captured and filmed migrant construction workers from Mexico and Honduras. The workers were made to sign legal papers which they did not comprehend and which turned out to be releases so that their images can appear on a reality TV show called Border Services to be screened on the National Geographic channel.”

Anna also tells me that her sojourn in hospital has made her realise there is “hope for mutilated dancers” but it also seems to have allowed her to develop a possibly unhealthy obsession about Signor Donato, an obscure one-legged dancer who was an enormous success touring Australia in the 1870s.

She reports:

“It appears there was more than one Signor Donato. The original was a hit in Covent Garden in London in the 1850s and danced dressed as a bullfighter with a golden tassel affixed to his stump which, it was said, resembled a cushion on an old fashioned sofa, his mutilated state notwithstanding.

Lola Montez: possibly pursued by a one-legged man

Lola Montez – pursued by a one-legged man?

“The second Signor Donato was an imitator of the original, who toured Australia and New Zealand several times before heading to California… possibly following the trail of Lola Montez, the Sligo-born ‘Spanish Dancer’, toppler of governments, and creator of the infamous erotic Spider Dance who ended her days performing charitable work for the fallen women of Brooklyn.”

Anna continues:

“One of the Signor Donatos (the first, I think) was said to be an immense favourite in London, Paris and Milan. He was said to have lost his leg fighting under Garibaldi when a shell burst during the Battle of Magenta in 1859. He surprised his audience with the grace and agility he displayed and danced to an introductory adagio, followed by the Jeanette Polka (accompanying himself with castanets) and concluded with the Garibaldi March.

“I first heard of him in a book I read in the 1980s: Enter the Colonies, Dancing, an Australian history of their early touring dancers. Then I read an article titled Strange Players by Dutton Cook (Belgravia). Strange Players was written in 1881 and is a documentation of famous maimed and mutilated dancers and actors working in London at that time.

“This small advert appeared in the Wellington Independent, 16 August, 1872 :

SIGNOR DONATO
Who created the great furore
at Covent Garden in 1864
will appear at the
ODD FELLOWS HALL
for
ONE NIGHT ONLY
On his way to San Francisco

“I have no idea what the great furore was…..and can’t find out if he ever arrived in San Francisco.”

The preface to a 1895 German book (Fahrend Volk by Signer Saltarino, Leipzig) says:

“The one-legged dancer first came into style with Julio Donato, a Spanish bull fighter, who lost a leg in a bull fight. Through industry and practice, he was able to perform the most graceful, surprising and agreeable dances. His appearance, manner and personality were far from painful. He married the daughter of the Viennese actor Julius, herself a popular actress, who bore him a lovely daughter, Dora Donato, who became a very well known light opera singer. After Donato’s death, a number of artificial (kuenstlich) and genuine monopedic dancers and clowns sprang up, all of whom were only weak imitations of their prototype. Only the one-legged clowns who called themselves The Donatos after their famous original appeared not only to inherit the artistic ability of their predecessor but his luck.”

Anna tells me:

“The imposter Signors Donato were particularly prevalent after the Great War and some even teamed up together. One particular duo called themselves The Merry Monopedes.

Anna is recovering well from her operation but worried that she may become “the world expert on monopedic dancers”.

YouTube currently has a 1949 clip of a one-armed and one-legged dancer called Crip Heard.

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Filed under Australia, Canada, Comedy, Dance, Humor, Humour, Television, Theatre

“I need at least a good six inches to satisfy me,” reveals critic Kate Copstick

Last night, Funny People at Soho Theatre

Since coming home from the Edinburgh Fringe exactly one week ago, I keep waking up at 7.22am.

Last night, I got to bed around 3.30am. I set my alarm for 8.30am. I woke up again at 7.22am for no reason. Someone must make a noise in the square outside my house at around 7.22am, but I hear nothing when I wake up.

Getting back to sleep was confused by the fact that, at 3.30am, I had taken a Vicks Medinite cold cure to help me sleep; but, last night, doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick had bought me a Red Bull energy drink.

We had been at the Soho Theatre to see the Abnormally Funny People comedy show.

And they were.

It is rare to see a comedy show where there is not one duff act. But, last night, every act on the show was excellent. Don Biswas, Liz Carr, Tanyalee Davis, Steve Day and Stella Young, compered by Mat Fraser. All excellent.

Because of what comes later in this blog, it is worth pointing out that all these comics have worked exceptionally hard under exceptionally challenging circumstances to become exceptionally good comedy performers. Each one is wonderfully creative. Remember that phrase.

At Soho Theatre last night, Copstick talks to Bronston Jones and Will Franken. In background, in green, Tanyalee Davis.

After the show, Copstick and I had a meal at Soho Theatre with the lovely Tanyalee Davis and American comics Will Franken and Bronston Jones. All three are wonderfully creative. Remember that phrase.

Both the guys had played their first Edinburgh Fringe this year and both, to varying extents, said they were thinking of moving to the UK. Will Franken, in particular, seemed especially Anglophile as he had been to William Blake’s grave earlier that day, recited an entire Blake Poem (NOT Jerusalem or Tiger, Tiger) and sang Roxy Music songs with Copstick without the urging of excessive amounts of alcohol.

He is returning to San Francisco in three days time. Copstick is returning to the slums of Nairobi in two days time. She will be there for 18 days. She spends four months of every year in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity. I have blogged about it before. If you want to know more, use the Search facility.

“You were telling me,” I said to Copstick when Will Franken and Bronston Jones had gone outside to smoke, “that, when you go to Kenya, within one day, it’s like none of this glittery Soho comedy stuff exists at all.”

“Especially,” said Copstick, “when you go out to a night like this, see the show and then you hang out with creative people and you have all these amazing ideas. It’s exciting that Will Franken is hanging around in London and half of me wants to go Oh! Before you go, we could meet up again and discuss ideas! and Tanyalee’s going to Liverpool but then she’s coming back and you think…”

“There must be a TV series in tonight’s show,” I interrupted.

“Well,” said Copstick, “the Abnormally Funny People had an idea for a sitcom involving the whole cast touring round the country. They had been pitching it for about two years, gradually crawling up the echelons of the BBC and, just as it got to the top, the BBC commissioned Life’s Too Short and, of course, television thinks it can only have one disabled-centric sitcom or programme of any sort at any one time. So the BBC didn’t commission the idea.”

“But, when you go to Kenya…” I said.

“As soon as I’m in Kenya,” said Copstick. “it’s like life in London doesn’t exist. Not Soho, not the Soho Theatre, none of this. Then, once I’ve been in Kenya for a few weeks, up to my nipples – my lovely nipples, as indeed remarked upon by a lovely man in Shepherd’s Bush only the other week – up to my nipples in sewage and poverty and despair and death – I come back and it takes much longer to adjust to life here in London. It takes me weeks not to be irritated by almost everything that I see and everyone I meet.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because we have so much and we don’t care and it would be so easy for us to help and do more and because my two totally different alternative universes are the Mama Biashara work in Kenya and comedy and performing here and most performers are, by their very nature, shallow, meaningless, pointless, self-obsessed people.

“It’s very difficult to get back to this from people who are absolutely up against death by starvation and malaria every day. People in Kenya say things to me like I had a touch of typhoid, but it’s fine and Let’s do the workshop; I only have a touch of malaria.

“Whereas, over here, you have people weeping into their cups because the audience didn’t like them as much as they thought they ought to. That culture clash is hard.”

“You’ll have to soften that They’re all shallow bastards implication,” I suggested. “Some comedy performers are wonderfully creative people.”

“Some of them are creative and wonderful, like the ones tonight,” Copstick agreed. “But some of them are just shallow ego-centric bastards. I’m not going to name names, but I may do in one of your future blogs!”

“That’s softer?” I asked. “So where do you live when you’re in Kenya? Last time I mentioned you in Nairobi, you were eating goats’ innards and jelly babies. The jelly babies sounded a bit luxurious.”

“Well, you can get jelly babies there,” said Copstick. “They’re not Bassett’s jelly babies. But you can get Maynards’ over there. That last time was the night I had this fantastic sausage made by a lovely, lovely man who stokes up a barbecue in the middle of the slum and he grills a sausage called mutura, made from goat intestines. It’s a cousin of the haggis but there’s no oatmeal. They just mash up the intestines and the blood and coil it up and roast it on the barbie and chop it up and you can buy yourself a good six inches for a couple of pence.”

“And that’s something you like,” I prompted.

“I need at least a good six inches to satisfy me,” Copstick agreed. “So that night I think I spent about 10 pence on a good six inches, which I took home and set about with my usual enthusiasm and, afterwards, I had half a dozen jelly babies.”

“You live in the slums of Nairobi,” I said.

“I live in a slum,” said Copstick, “among the people we work with.”

“I’ve never lived in the slums and seen real poverty and death like you,” I said, “but when I’ve come back from seeing abject poverty in places like Nepal, I walk around the streets of London and total nihilism sets in for a couple of weeks. Doesn’t it make you terribly nihilistic?”

“I get…” said Copstick. “I get angry because we waste so much and it’s all so easy and nobody thinks about anything and we’re all so obsessed about tiny, pointless things. We have no idea how hard life can be. With performers, the ego-centricity is a necessary part and parcel of the whole thing, but we get obsessed with tiny, pathetic things.”

“Maybe that’s the difference between us,” I said. “I get nihilistic; you get angry.”

“One of the things that spending all that time in Kenya has done for me,” said Copstick,  “is that… you certainly don’t sweat the small stuff when you spend four months there every year… Things that used to drive me crazy in London, I just now think Yeah, whatever… I don’t get so upset about things. I really don’t and it’s entirely Kenya which has done that to me. I have absolutely – apart from the fact that bin seems to be on fire in the street outside – I have absolutely nothing to complain about.”

“The bin appears to be smoking along with Will Franken,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Copstick.”

“It’s like a New York street scene with smoke coming up through the road,” I said.

“Will Franken – the brilliant Will Franken,” said Copstick, “has set a bin on fire.”

“I feel I should photograph it for my blog,” I said, “not that I want you to think the blog controls my life. Perish the thought that I should be so shallow.”

“That is quite a serious amount of smoke,” Copstick said. “You should go out and get a picture. This could be the second Great Fire of London.”

“I can’t shoot a picture through the window,” I said, “because of the reflections. I will have to go out.”

The not-now-smoking bin outside the Soho Theatre last night

And I did go out but, before I got to the bin, a security man from Soho Theatre had got there with two glass jugs of water and had poured them into the bin.

“It happens quite a lot,” he said to me. “There were flames last time.”

“Bastard thing!” I said to Copstick, more in nihilism than in anger, when I came back inside. “He doused the smoke before I could get a decent picture for my blog.”

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Filed under Charity, Comedy, Kenya, Poverty, Third World