I saw two shining examples of deliberate practice last night – both in The Royal Ballet’s performance of Mayerling.
Mayerling was choreographed by the late Kenneth MacMillan who was originally a talented ballet dancer. When he first started learning ballet as a young boy his teacher insisted that he did an hour’s practice every day. That early practice, which he did religiously, laid the foundations for his later exceptional work as a ballet dancer and then a choreographer. The complex movements and artful way Mayerling's real-life drama from 1889 was illustrated shows real expertise. MacMillan was knighted in 1983. Whilst MacMillan was sadly missing last night (he died in 1992), he was omnipresent throughout the performance.
Dancing the lead role of Crown Prince Rudolph in Mayerling last night was Edward Watson, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. He is a Royal Ballet dancer through and through, having come up through the ranks after his training at The Royal Ballet School. He has been a principal dancer since 2005 and is a self-confessed fan of MacMillan ballets. Watson is careful to get feedback on his performance from only a few trusted advisors. If they recommend changing his approach, he listens very carefully.
Whilst the concept of deliberate practice might initially appear to be more applicable to endeavours such as ballet or sport or other physical activities, it has been shown to be equally applicable to writing, writing software, playing music and many other disciplines.
When watching a wonderful performance such as The Royal Ballet’s Mayerling it is easy to think “oh these are very talented people who were always destined to be ballet dancers”. Maybe there is some truth in that, but the other side of the coin is that there is now a huge body of evidence to suggest that much hard work went into developing and improving their talent.
It is wonderful to watch anyone working at peak performance, and last night was no exception.