For No Good Reason: Atheist Transcendence at the Black and White Tour

Black and white tour 3
I know. Most people don’t connect Morris dancing with transcendence, atheist or otherwise. Most people who have seen Morris dancing connect it with cacophony, silly outfits, and beer. But I had a moment of atheist transcendence at the Black And White Morris Tour a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to talk about it.

A quick bit of background. Morris dancing is a more or less harmless addiction that takes the form of dressing in colorful outfits, strapping bells to your legs, and dancing in smallish groups (usually six or eight people), clashing sticks together and/or waving hankies about. It’s an English folk tradition, and while many Morris dancers will tell you entertaining lies about how incredibly ANCIENT the tradition is and how there was probably Morris dancing at Stonehenge, it’s actually about 500 years old or so. My darling Ingrid is deeply involved with it, but I love her anyway.

Black and white tour 6
Now. Typically, a Morris outing involves one or more teams each dressing in their own distinctive team outfits, each team performing their own dances. But the Black and White Tour is different. Everyone just dresses in whatever combination of black and white strikes their fancy. And the dances are common ones that many dancers know: so pretty much everyone on every team can dance just about every dance, all together.

And this year, it was magnificent.

Black and white tour 1
I don’t dance the Morris myself anymore. High impact, bad knee. I was just there to watch and hoot. And this year, I was gobsmacked. I’ve seen a lot of Morris dancing in my life — Ingrid’s done it for years, and I did it for years before she did — and while I enjoy it, I’ve also seen enough of it to last me several lifetimes, and am not easily impressed. But this time, I was more than impressed. I had my breath taken away. It was one of the most beautiful and memorable things I’ve seen in my life.

And it was all for no good reason.

Which brings me back to atheism, and the atheist transcendence.

Black and white tour 2It’s hard to describe what exactly made this day so breathtaking. Part of it was that it was such a beautiful blend of individual expression and group coherence. So much of life stresses one at the expense of the other: the individual submerges their own expression to go along with the group, or the individual says, “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine,” and does what they want regardless of the effect on society. The Black and White tour somehow managed to hit that rare, perfect, synergistic balance between the two: the joy of working together, and the joy of being yourself.

Black and white tour 8
The exuberantly imaginative interpretations of the “black and white” theme are a perfect example. It was a specific enough vision to give the group a coherent look, while at the same time allowing a tremendous amount of room for personal expression. The fact that it was an inter-team event helped as well: instead of one or maybe two sets dancing at a time, there were often four or five sets of six or eight dancers all dancing in a row, turning an already flamboyant dance form into a lavish, extravagant spectacle. And the fact that the performances were mostly by mish-moshes of people who had rarely, if ever, danced together before somehow added to the goofy, boisterous glee of it. It wasn’t about precision or team pride. It was about joy.

Black and white tour 5
And partly, it was just beautiful: the black and white of the dancers capering in the sunlight, against the Victorian white and glass of the Conservatory of Flowers and the green, green grass of Golden Gate Park. It looked like some wild, arty circus had come to town.

But much of what made it so magnificent was the sheer, beautiful absurdity of it all.

There is no good reason on this earth to do Morris dancing. It is an utterly pointless activity. Okay, you get some exercise and social contact… but really. You can get social contact anywhere, and you can get better exercise at the gym. And you don’t have to strap bells to your legs and wave handkerchiefs around like an idiot to do it. It isn’t constructive, it isn’t important, it doesn’t produce anything. All it produces is joy.

Which, if you’re an atheist, is kind of what life is like.

There’s no purpose or meaning to it, other than the purpose and meaning we create. In a few decades, we’re all going to be gone, dust in the ground or ashes in the wind. In a few million years, the earth and everything on it will be gone, boiled away into the Sun. And if the physicists and astronomers are right, in a few billion years the Universe will essentially be gone, dissipated into a thin scattering of atoms dotted throughout vast stretches of empty space. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, no prize in the CrackerJacks, no final chapter that ties up all the loose ends. And there’s no big daddy in the sky to shake your hand at the end of it and say, “You done good, kid. Here’s your blue ribbon.”

Black and white tour 4
And yet, here we are. We were, against wildly astronomical odds, born. The chances against any one of us having been born are so high as to be laughable; the chances against there having been life on this planet at all defy description. No, there’s no purpose to it, if by “purpose” you mean “being a cog in someone else’s machine.” There’s no reason for it to have happened, except that it did. And the meaning of it is whatever meaning we create. The meaning of it is to diminish suffering and create joy and connection, for ourselves and for each other, for as long as we’re here.

We can do that in our work. We can do it in our art. We can do it in our friendships, our relationships, our families. We can do it in politics, charities, community involvement. We can do it with cooking. We can do it with fashion. We can do it with sex.

Black and white tour 7
And we can do it by dressing in ridiculous outfits, strapping bells to our legs, and dancing in the park like fools.

For no good reason.

Other pieces in this series:
Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence

Photos copyright 2008 by Tiffany Barnes, of White Rats Morris team in San Francisco. You can click on any of the photos to enlarge, or you can see the whole slideshow if you like. I’m a little sorry they’re all by Tiffany, actually: they’re gorgeous pictures, but it means there aren’t any of her, and she had one of the best outfits of anybody.

The Necessity of Humor: Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica
As insanely observant readers of this blog may have noticed, I’ve recently started watching “Battlestar Galactica.” (I haven’t seen any of this season yet — I’m midway through Season 2 on the DVDs, for once I’m going to watch a TV series in order — so please don’t give anything away.) I like the show a lot so far. It’s everything the critics and fans say it is: it’s smart, imaginative, well-written, richly detailed, emotionally and morally complex.

But as much as I’m enjoying it, I can already tell that it’s never going to be one of my all-time favorite TV shows. It’s never going to be, say, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or “The Simpsons,” or “The Office.” I’m not going to watch it again and again; I’m not going to read books on its philosophical/ sociological/ political perspective; I’m not going to watch every director’s commentary, or indeed any of them. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m going to watch the rest of the series. I like it, I respect it… but it’s lacking something that I find essential in a long- running narrative.

It’s lacking humor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The problem isn’t that it’s dark. Some of my favorite TV shows have been very dark indeed. “Buffy” is dark. “Six Feet Under” is dark. And while it’s technically a comedy (and is in fact very funny), I think “The Office” is one of the darkest things that’s ever been put on television. But all of these shows brought the funny as well: sometimes in the form of comic relief, sometimes woven into the darkness so closely the two were indistinguishable, but passionately, and skillfully, and in generous doses.

And to me, that’s essential.

It’s not just that humor makes a dark story bearable, offering relief and making it easier to watch. That’s true; but other things offer this as well. (Sex, for instance… which “Battlestar Galactica” has in trumps.)

It’s that humor is a central part of life.

Humor is one of the main pillars that supports us; one of the main nutrients that sustains us; one of the main threads running through our lives. Even in dark times. Heck, especially in dark times. The ability to laugh and make jokes in a sad, frightening, terrible time is crucial. It gives us strength. It gives us perspective. It reminds us of why the bad times are worth getting through. There are times in my life that I can’t even begin to imagine having weathered without my sick, morbid, fucked-up sense of humor.

To spend literally years telling a sprawling, wide-ranging, ensemble-cast story without exploring humor is overlooking a fundamental reality of what makes us human. It’s like overlooking love, or conflict, or fear, or friendship. It’s not just a disservice to the audience. It’s a disservice to the characters. Humor doesn’t just make a dark story easier to watch. It makes a dark story ring more true.

I’m not saying that every narrative — every novel, every film, every ballad, every graphic novel — has to have humor. They don’t. I’ve read/ seen/ heard some wonderful, completely satisfying ones that haven’t. But a long-running television show is different. If your show is an hour-long drama, you have about twenty hours a year, and you have it over the course of (hopefully) several years. It’s a unique art form, with a uniquely large scope. To spend that much time telling a story and still leave out the humor is like, I don’t know, spending all day cooking Thanksgiving dinner and leaving out dessert. It can be a delicious dinner, but it still leaves you feeling like you aren’t quite full… even if you ate for hours.

“A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations

Brain_with_symbolsThere’s a trope I’ve noticed in debates about atheism, about skepticism, about science. And the trope goes something like this:

“Logic and reason isn’t everything. Not everything in this world is rational. Not everything that we know in the world is known through logic and reason. Sometimes we have to use our intuition, and listen to our hearts. There are different ways of knowing than just reason and evidence.”

The thing is?

I actually think there’s a lot of truth to this.

And I still think it’s a terrible argument to make against atheism, skepticism, and/or science.

Let me explain.

Love_heartssvgThere are absolutely areas of life in which logic and reason don’t apply. Or don’t predominate, anyway. Love, of course, is a classic example. The classic example, probably. Nobody decides who to fall in love with by making a cool appraisal of the pros and cons. Nobody decides who to fall in love with, period. It’s an emotional, irrational, impulsive, intuitive, largely unconscious act.

Personally, I think a lot of people would benefit from a little more rational, evidence- based thinking in their love lives. It might stop them from making the same damn dumb mistakes over and over again, for one thing. But ultimately, decisions about love are made with the heart, not the head. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

John_henry_fuseli__the_nightmareOr take art. The part of us that loves music, images, stories… it’s not a logical part. Not entirely, anyway. A huge amount of it is personal, emotional, visceral. And it should be. Scientists and art critics and philosophers can analyze why different people like different things in art, and they’ll come up with useful observations… but the actual experience of art isn’t mostly analytical.

Sure, there are some commonly-accepted criteria that can be applied to art. Plus, the degree to which we appreciate art emotionally or rationally can depend on the art… as well as on the appreciator. And certainly our appreciation of art can be increased by a better understanding of its history or structure. But ultimately, art either moves you or it doesn’t. And when it does, the experience of being moved is not a rational process. It’s subjective.

And most artists will tell you that an essential part of the creative process is getting the rational part of their brain to shut up for a while. While the editing or modifying process often involves a critical, rational eye, the actual creation part of art comes largely from a non-verbal, non-linear, non-rational place. The experience of art is not primarily a rational one… for artist or for audience.

RaspberriesI can think of oodles more examples. Humor. Sexual desire. Friendship. Sentiment and nostalgia. Tastes in food. I think you get my drift, though. Many of the most central, most profound experiences of human life are things we experience emotionally, intuitively, irrationally.

But have you noticed a pattern to these examples?

They’re all matters of opinion. They’re all matters of subjective experience.

None of them is concerned with trying to understand what is true. Not just what is true for us, personally, but what is true in the external world. The world we all share, as opposed to the ones in our own heads and hearts.

And these questions — the questions of what is true in the external world — are where logic and evidence leap to the forefront.

ThinkingThis is why. We know — as well as we know anything — that the human mind can be fooled. It is wired, for very good evolutionary reasons, with some interesting distortions of reality. Among other things, it’s wired to see what it expects to see; it’s wired to see patterns even when none exist; it’s wired to see intention even when none exists.

And intuition, especially, is a deeply imperfect form of perception and understanding. Yes, it can often be a powerful tool for making leaps and seeing possibilities we couldn’t even have imagined before. But it can also be a powerful tool for showing us exactly what we expect to see, and telling us exactly what we want to hear — regardless of whether what we expect or want are actually there to be seen and heard.

Radiohead_ok_computerNow, for subjective questions, these imperfections aren’t particularly important. If you think you’re in love, then you are in love. If you think you like Radiohead, then you do like Radiohead. If you think broccoli tastes like fermented essence of evil, then it does. To you, anyway. With subjective questions like these, there’s not really a difference between “what you think is true” and “what really is true.” Or if there is, it’s not a crucial one.

But when we’re trying to figure out what’s true in the real world — not in the subjective world of our own feelings and experiences, but in the external world — there is very often a difference between what we think is true and what is true. An important, measurable difference.

And if we want to understand what’s true in the real world, we need to acknowledge, recognize, and correct for that difference. When we don’t, it’s disastrous. Think of all the people in history who “intuitively” knew that black people were mentally inferior to white people; who “intuitively” knew that mental illness was caused by demonic possession; etc., etc., etc. The human race’s track record of trying to answer non- matter- of- opinion questions about what is and is not true in the external world by “listening to our hearts” is a pretty abysmal one.

So if we’re trying to understand the external world, we need to be very, very careful to screen out bias and preconception as much as humanly possible. And the best way we have to do that is with logic, reason, and the rigorously careful gathering, examination, and analysis of the evidence.

Man_using_microscopeIn other words — the scientific method.

Which — with its double-blinding, careful control groups (including placebo controls when appropriate), transparent methodology, replicability, falsifiability, peer review, etc. etc. — has specifically developed over the decades and centuries to do one thing: eliminate bias, preconception, and human error, as much as is humanly possible, in order to get the closest approximation of the truth that we can.

It’s true that the history of science is full of stories of scientists coming up with important insights and breakthroughs in irrational ways: through dreams, sudden revelations, etc. Yes, irrational inspiration can be an important part of the scientific process. But it’s an important first part. After all, the history of science is also full of scientists coming up with ideas through irrational inspiration that then turned out to be full of beans. (Nikola Tesla comes to mind.) You just don’t read about them as much.

Inspiration gives scientists ideas, points them in new directions. But they then need to test those ideas and directions. And they don’t do that intuitively. They do it using the scientific method: rationally, logically, and rigorously.

So what does all this have to do with atheism?

[Read more...]

A Reality Show About Art: Project Runway

Dvd1It’s somewhat alarming how quickly this happened.

I went from catching the last half hour of a rerun on the TV at the gym, to obsessively Tivoing every new episode plus every rerun from every single season that has ever aired… in the space of about four weeks.

I’ve sucked Ingrid into it as well. And we have totally gone to the bad place, watching hours-long marathons and even renting the season we missed on Netflix. In a matter of a few weeks, this silly reality show has become like “The Daily Show” or “The Office” — one of the very few TV shows that I never, ever want to miss.

So here’s the thing about this show, the thing you might not be expecting, the thing that surprised the hell out of me:

“Project Runway” is actually smart and interesting.

Tim_heidi_2Yes, it’s fun, entertaining, easy-to-swallow pop culture fluff. But it’s fun, entertaining, easy-to-swallow pop culture fluff with some thought and substance behind it, and with perspective and light to shed on the reality of the human world.

Maybe I’m just rationalizing. But I don’t think so. And I have backup for my opinion. I mean, the whole reason I watched the damn show at the gym in the first place was that I’d read more than one article, by more than one smart and thoughtful TV or culture critic, with a headline reading something like, “Project Runway: Actually A Good TV Show.”

Subhead: “No, Really. Stop Laughing. I’m Serious.”

So here’s my Grand Theory of what I think makes “Project Runway” smart and interesting:

It’s a reality show about art.

[Read more...]

She Tattooed Me With Science!

3dscience_dna_structure_labeled_aThis is just neat. I’m not including any photos here since I don’t have permission to post them, but over on The Loom is an excellent, beautiful, nerdy collection of science-themed tattoos.

I just love these — such astonishing variety! But I have to confess that I feel a little unoriginal now. I’ve been planning to get a DNA tattoo for some time (expensive project that I can’t afford right now, since I want it to go all the way up my arm, down my back, and down my leg), and now I feel like I’ve been scooped. But it’s still unbelievably cool. Check it out.

(Via Pharyngula, of course. Sometimes I think I should just rename this blog “Via Pharyngula.”)

Gratuitous Provokery and ’80s Nostalgia: Kathleen Parker and Religious Imagery in Art

Chocolate_jesusSo conservative pundit Kathleen Parker recently wrote a column about the latest art kerfuffle, the Chocolate Jesus (a.k.a. My Sweet Lord). While I actually agreed with at least some of the gist of her piece (Catholics shouldn’t be issuing death threats over religious imagery they find offensive — kind of a hard point to argue with), she also made this comment:

“Catholics have been under siege by the secular culture for years, confronted with everything from rock star Madonna’s antics to “Piss Christ” to a Virgin Mary painting adorned with elephant feces. All were intended to provoke — gratuitously.”

Piss_christThe “gratuitously” really ticked me off. Her point seems to be that recent disrespectful or mocking use of Islamic imagery in art (like the Danish cartoons) is okay because it’s critiquing the way the religion has been manipulated by power-hungry jerks… but disrespectful or mocking use of Christian imagery in art? Well, there’s no point to that at all. That’s just gratuitous, offending for the pure purpose of being offensive. (She also seems unaware that neither the Piss Christ artist nor the elephant dung Virgin Mary artist intended their art to be disrespectful or mocking.)

So I wrote this letter to the editor in response. It didn’t get published… but what else is a blog for, if not to share my unpublished rants to the editor?


Holy_virgin_maryThe fact that Kathleen Parker (Opinion, 4/6/07) would characterize artists Chris Ofili (“The Holy Virgin Mary”), Andres Serrano (“Piss Christ”), and Madonna as “gratuitously” provoking about religion makes it clear that she hasn’t bothered to do even minimal research on any of these artist’s intentions. All these artists (even Madonna, for whom I have no great love) have discussed the ideas and impulses behind their religious-themed art, and upsetting people for no reason other than to upset them is not among them.

The sad fact is that religion enjoys an absurdly privileged position in the marketplace of ideas. Religion and religious institutions are tremendously powerful in this country — and yet it’s assumed that religion should be exempt from the criticism, commentary, and even mockery that are commonly leveled at powerful institutions. I understand that Ms. Parker is provoked by certain uses of religious imagery in art — but just because she doesn’t see their point doesn’t mean they’re pointless.


Madonna_2But now I’m sorry that I wrote the letter before I consulted with Ingrid. Because, as usual, she completely hit the nail on the head. “Piss Christ and Madonna?” she said. “That’s what she’s worked up about? What decade is she in, anyway? That is so ’80s.”

And she’s right. Outrage over “Piss Christ” and “Like a Prayer” is such a 1989 time capsule, I almost expect to see it on VH1’s “I Love the ’80s.” It’s almost quaint.

Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage: A Review

A Dadaist masterpiece.

CoffeepotThis brilliant, unsettling work of contemporary installation art sets itself firmly within the Dadaist and neo-Dadaist tradition. With its blind alleys, impossible turns, and trajectories that lead nowhere, it echoes the functionless functionality of Meret Oppenheim’s “Fur-Lined Teacup,” Marcel Duchamp’s “Impossible Bed,” and, more recently, Jacques Carelman’s “Coffeepot for Masochists.” The influence of M.C. Escher on the piece is undeniable as well. Traffic patterns mysteriously blend from opposite directions; narrow passages twist in on themselves; and the piece as a whole seems to contain and entrap itself in a way that appears to be physically impossible.

EscherYet while “Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” makes no attempt to conceal these classic influences, it nevertheless escapes being derivative. Both the gargantuan scale of the installation and its interactive nature give it a forcefully penetrative quality that differs significantly from smaller works of Dadaist and neo-Dadaist sculpture (which one can, after all, turn one’s back on). Once engaged with this unique work, it becomes virtually impossible to distance one’s self from it emotionally, or even physically. This quality is experienced in the details of the piece as well as in its massive scale. We particularly see it in the confusing and labyrinthine “exits” — indistinguishable from the “entrances” and even co-existent with them — compelling the participant’s awareness, not merely of the impossibility of escape, but of the absurdity of even contemplating it.

FrustrationMore significantly, the fact that the piece functions — although barely — as an actual parking garage merely serves to highlight the more disturbing aspects of the work. Poised on the liminal region between function and non-function, it forges a connection between creator and audience that is interactive and yet singularly hostile. Unlike typical artwork which attempts to create a bond of understanding and insight between artist and viewer, “Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” seeks to entice and enfold the audience members, only to frustrate and alienate them. It is a self-contained paradox, a connection which seeks only to sever itself.

TowelsThe location of the installation in a literal urban shopping center brilliantly underscores this contradiction. The dreamlike — or rather, nightmarish — qualities of the work are thrown into sharp relief when one contemplates this juxtaposition. One wishes to accomplish simple tasks of survival or comfort: buying towels, or a coffee maker, or even merely bread and milk. And yet the “parking garage,” a construct ostensibly designed to facilitate these tasks, instead thwarts the participant at every turn, and tasks which should connect one with the warp and weft of one’s life instead become distancing and enervating. The audience participates in the work, even becomes one with it, and yet is entirely at its mercy. It is a vivid, haunting metaphor for modern civilization and its self-negating contradictions.

Bedbathbeyond“Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” is located off of Ninth Street between Bryant and Brannan, adjacent to Trader Joe’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, in San Francisco. The installation is scheduled for an indefinite run.

Dream diary, 1/1/07: Multi-media Performance Art

MaryI dreamed I was taking a college class in multi-media performance art taught by my friends Tim and Josie. I had decided to do a performance about crying and grief, and was planning to project images of the weeping Virgin Mary onto my own face, while eating pizza, with music by Fred Frith in the background. I knew this was kind of a weak, half-assed idea, but I didn’t have the time to do anything better. But I needed to find some images of crying Virgin Marys, and I knew my co-worker Andrew had a big collection of Virgin Mary statues, so I knocked on his door and woke him up so I could take some photos of his Virgin Marys with my camera phone.

Reality check: My friend Tim and Josie do not teach multi-media performance art (although one is an artist and the other is a musician). As far as I know, my co-worker Andrew does not have a collection of Virgin Mary statues. And I do not have a camera phone. Just so we’re all clear.

Sublimely Ridiculous: Mark Morris’s “King Arthur”

Dealy_boppersKing Arthur
Mark Morris Dance Company
Cal Performances, Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley, 9/30/06

I am, rather uncharacteristically, speechless.

Not that that’s going to stop me.

I guess I should start by saying that it’s magnificent. Much of what I’m about to say is going to make it sound ditzy and dumb, so I should make it clear from the outset that it’s neither. It’s extremely goofy; it’s utterly shameless; it will do absolutely anything to get attention or admiration or cheap laughs. But it’s not ditzy, and it’s not dumb. It’s one of the most splendid performances of any kind I’ve seen all year.

King_arthurIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which King Arthur never makes an appeareance. (His hat is often on stage, though.)

Union_jackIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which all the parts with story and narrative have been expunged, leaving behind a series of songs on the topics of (a) how we should all have lots of sex while we’re young, because life is short and soon it’ll be too late, and (b) how fabulously terrific England is.

Top_hatIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — featuring cheap tinsel curtains, sequined top hats, gym shoes with flashing red lights, and rhythmic-gymnastic ribbon routines. Among other things. Among many, many other things.

Dealy_boppers_2It’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which a magical spirit is costumed in a blue cardigan, costume-shop butterfly wings, and a set of silver sparkly dealy-boppers.

OrgyIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which women and men partner indiscriminately, and you often aren’t sure which is which anyway.

BoxersIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which the naked river spirits dress in an astonishing variety of silly underwear, from pantaloons to boxer shorts.

TreeIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which the sets have no ornamentation or facade of any kind. Moving platforms are black with big yellow X’s; moving staircases are bare metal; trees are blatantly artificial and set in big wooden blocks; and the snow in the winter scene is generated by a perforated roll-up shade filled with fake snow, being operated center stage by one of the dancers.

MimeIt’s a modern dance performance set to Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” — in which, in defiance of absolutely every rule about setting dance to vocal music, the song lyrics are broadly and literally mimed by the dance movements. Not just once or twice, but over and over again.

MaypoleNow, if this were being done by college dance majors or a local avante-garde theater company, it would be pretentious and laughable. But this is the Mark Morris Dance Company, and they completely get away with it. They get away with it because they know their shit. They get away with it because they dance with genius and discipline. Every movement, even the goofiest — especially the goofiest — is flawless, fluid and controlled, powerful and graceful. They did a schottische — a fun but lumbering dance that always makes me feel like I’m wearing ten-pound boots — and made it look weightless and lithe… while still, somehow, preserving the dance’s essential dorkiness. They did a Maypole dance that made Ingrid afraid to ever get near a Maypole again for fear of being unworthy (while, at the same time, she was busily stealing ideas).

Mirror_mazeAnd every moment of it is just flat-out beautiful. Sometimes it’s simply and straightforwardly beautiful — the sumptuous and romantic partner/mirror duet between the two women springs to my always libidinous mind. And some of it is dazzlingly beautiful while at the same time being goofy and ridiculous — most notably the ensemble piece that frantically weaves and dashes through a constantly moving set of free-standing mirrored doors, looking for all the world like twenty cheesy stage magicians in a fun house mirror maze, all competing for attention.

Mark_morrisIn the end, I think that’s what capped it for me. Mark Morris and his dancers have every shred of the discipline and devotion required by high art — with absolutely none of its stuffiness and self-importance, and none of its sense that That Simply Isn’t Done, Dear. Morris clearly believes that high art and low entertainment not only aren’t contradictory, but are actually complimentary, even symbiotic. And so the gasps of epiphany and the cheap laughs don’t alternate or compete — they come together, a simultaneous orgasm of aesthetic delight.

It fuckin’ rocks, dude.

King Arthur continues at Zellerbach until Oct. 7.

Juggling to Abbey Road

This is just cool. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything: it’s just cool. It’s this guy, Chris Bliss, doing a choreographed juggling routine to the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” sequence at the end of Abbey Road. And it’s just neat. It’s one of those things, like the Thorax Cake, that makes me happy to be part of the human race. I haven’t been feeling very happy about being part of the human race lately, so this was a welcome shot in the arm. Enjoy! (BTW, you really have to have your sound turned on to get the effect, so don’t watch this at work unless your boss is either really cool or not around.)