Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gone to the ballet

Noosa has a pile of arts festivals, and these days Ana and I are involved in one. We're volunteering at the Noosa Longweekend, which is a two week festival of music, dance and spoken word.

One of the perks of volunteering at these festivals, of course, is that you get to see the shows. This morning we were at a talk by Paul Bailey, the author of Think Of An Elephant. The book claims to be about how science and spirituality meet, using everything from quantum mechanics to buddhism to make your life better, or something -- I haven't read it, but we were asked to be ushers there, so what the heck. It turned out to be something of a bloodfest, as we watched Peter Thompson, one of Australia's best interviewers, rip Paul Bailey apart.

Thompson, who hosts a weekly show on ABC (and looks remarkably like Christopher Plummer) was the moderator of the event. Perhaps things are done differently in Australia, but every book talk I've seen has featured a sympathetic, if not downright sycophantic moderator, who is there to let the author flog his books. Not Peter Thompson, though. He seemed to feel his job was to challenge the guest and push him to defend his claims. Fair enough, except it turned out Mr. Bailey couldn't defend himself all that well. When asked to give a single example of how his theories had made his life better, he hemmed and hawed and finally spoke about how understanding the essential oneness of all beings could help resolve conflict by helping you to see that two people fighting over an orange may not be fighting for the same thing at all (one of them may want the juice, the other may want the rind). Thompson said that was very interesting, but pointed out that Bailey was quoting from Getting To Yes, a classic business management text.

The audience was evenly divided between those who were there to fawn over Bailey's new age musings, and those who were on side with Thompson. Probably the low point for Bailey came when a member of the audience said "I'm a scientist, and I'm sorry but just about everything you've said about science is nonsense. There's no such thing as quantum particles, your understanding of the immune system is completely wrong, and your thinking seems to be extremely wooly."

It made me feel quite sorry for poor Mr. Bailey. Even though he did set himself up for failure by having his sister stand up and sing a karaoke version of A Whole New World, from the Disney movie Alladin. (Apparently it was supposed to make us think about how art and perception and science... well, I'm not quite sure what they do, but I'm sure it was clear to Bailey and his sister.)

None of this has to do with the ballet, of course, except that as volunteers we were given thank-you tickets to go and see another show tonight: the Queensland National Ballet. They performed a piece called Yidaki, and it was absolutely stunning. Sharon and I went, since Ana volunteered to stay home and babysit (opting for money over art -- the philistine!)

Yidaki is one of the aboriginal words for the didgeridoo, and the show featured the playing of David Hudson, a top yidaki player, and classical ballet being used to tell Aboriginal stories. It was gripping -- superb choreography and marvellous dancing. Really a top notch show.

On Tuesday night, Ana and I are going to see a very different kind of entertainment when we tear tickets at a show by Kevin Borich. He's described as a "blues rock guitar legend", but I'm afraid I've never heard of him. Still, from what I can see of him on Youtube, it should be a great show. Wednesday night is the Queensland Opera Young Artists. Art is in the air in Noosa this week.

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