Ramble Through The Looking Glass

August 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm 5 comments

Jessie Willcox Smith, Collage from Boys and Girls of Bookland, 1923

I’ve watched Homage To The Rabbits at least 10 times now, and it continues to delight me with its weirdness and the Alice-In-Wonderland feeling of being transported to an absurd dreamscape where things all of a sudden stop making sense. The piece was choreographed by Wade Robson, with music composed by Eric Serra, and danced by Cirque du Soleil for the Criss Angel® Believe show. Yes, the “lie” is boldfaced (!) in the middle of “believe”, which is quite clever but insufferably contrived coming from someone who has registered his name as a trademark. (Despite that, click on the link and you will be taken to a very nice homepage with some awesome flash animation on it.)

I am predisposed to dislike magicians and magic, both of which are simply deceptive as opposed to deliberately surreal. I distrust anyone who creates a fantasy they want to dupe me in to believing is real, while smugly refusing to reveal the artifice behind their craft. It’s the height of arrogance, and the opposite of artful. Whereas, offer me a fantasy that bends the laws of logic, physics and reality as we know it–create an intentional falsehood to amuse and delight me, and acknowledge it as such–and I am putty in your hands.

In other words, I look for honesty in the attempt to deceive, bringing to mind the Dylan quote from Absolutely Sweet Marie, “to live outside the law you must be honest.”

More about fantasy versus reality, and why Alice trumps Dorothy every time, after the jump.

First, back to Criss Angel for just a second. What kind of person registers a trademark of their own name? Well, not really his own name, since it is a pseudonym, but you know where I’m going. What is he saying–that everything that is me, my very essence, as embodied in my (made-up) name is a brand, a marketable product? Well, yes he is. Even now, there might be some cheap “Criss Angel” knock-off working the college club circuit, so it’s good to know that Criss can reclaim his name–his very identity–through the courts, if necessary.

It seems to me that he is saying: I® am unique, and all that I® am is a product. All that he is, therefore, is a set of performances that are, at their very core, arrogant deceptions. Hmmm…that sounds like too many people I know whose very being is their external presentation. Those who have become the brands they wear. I’m having a Naomi Klein moment. Give me a second…I’m sure it will pass.

Anyway, although my admiration of Homage to the Rabbits is tainted a little by the Criss Angel angle, it is bolstered by Wade Robson’s and the Cirque dancers’ genius at executing the idea. While Homage to the Rabbits has nothing to do with Alice In Wonderlandthat connection was entirely my own–I feel the need to make it, for if I’m going to be tempted into a fantasy world, I’d rather it be by Lewis Carroll than by Criss Angel.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was not the first book I read, I don’t think, but it was definitely the first play I saw, and as a young, weird kid probably around the age of 7 or 8, it spoke to me at some kind of subconscious level known only to other weird kids and to Lewis Carroll. Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, the March Hare … all of these archetypal characters are so rich and complex; so packed with symbolism and meaning (as I see now, looking back with adult eyes). But mostly what they were then, and still are now, is fantastically surreal. The fantasy world Carroll created, where logic is turned on its head and where the constraints of reality are lifted briefly, offers a thrilling weightless excitement like being on a roller-coaster just as it begins its drop.

As a kid, I remember relating to Alice’s conundrum of being too large to get through the little door to the garden beyond; and too small to reach the key on the table at a very primal, visceral level. These feelings of being too large or too small were absolutely real to me, as they are to most children. That Alice had a solution and was able to make herself larger or smaller as required was a childhood Holy Grail. Her consternation at encountering nonsensical creatures whose logic was wholly their own, and wholly inaccessible to her, was also real then as it is now (especially during the endless committee meetings I endure on a daily basis).

I didn’t have nearly the same response to Dorothy and The Wizard Of Oz. Maybe because it wasn’t a book first (or perhaps it was, but I didn’t read it). The two stories are remarkably similar at a meta- level, with Dorothy swept up to Oz and Alice dropped down to Wonderland (notice, they both use the device of a gravity-defying moment to transport them to their alternate universes), where their quest is to make sense of what’s happening to them and get home. Home, back to the land of normalcy, having learned something important about themselves, their powers to affect the world around them, and what is real … and what is not.

But Dorothy was a bit too self-sufficient for me and her discovery that the entire thing was a trick by a little man behind a curtain, while it appeals to my cynical self, dashes the hopes of my romantic one. I am left feeling as I do after a magician’s performance: tricked but not enriched by the trip to fantasy-land.

All of life, really, is the attempt to distinguish what is real from what is not, to make sense of it and to create meaning and order amongst the chaos. It may be true, as Einstein said, that reality is merely a persistent illusion–and I suppose one that is individually generated–but a reality informed by the possibility of the fantastic is a far preferable world to live in, than one that knows the fantastic is unreal. Dorothy came back from Oz knowing that the whole thing was a dream and a scam, and realizing that there was No Place Like Home. Alice, on the other hand, awoke from Wonderland realizing that she could visit again any time–and indeed she did, later Through The Looking Glass.

It is true they both gained a new appreciation for reality–in fact, they both ‘grew up’ a little, as maturing brings with it the inevitable need to conform to reality, and here the slightly heavy-handed “moral of the story” reveals itself–but Dorothy’s world narrowed as a result, whereas Alice’s expanded.

Alice’s experience is much preferable, for although we are socialized out of our more outlandish desires to live in a fantasy world as we grow to adulthood, there is a universal inclination to escape reality on occasion; to indulge in the fantastic and unreal. Some of us–the artists among us–live as eternal Peter Pans, to bring yet another childhood character into the mix. But most of us don’t make art, we appreciate it. Art allows us to enter an alternate universe, knowing that the real one we leave behind still exists and will be there for us to return to, changed and enriched, as Alice did.

It was with immense delight, then, that I read that two of the film world’s Peter Pans–Tim Burton and Johnny Depp–would be making a 3-D CGI version of Alice In Wonderland. Depp is not confirmed, but Entertainment Weekly felt the rumour was solid enough to announce that Burton would most likely be casting Depp as The Mad Hatter.

Whether fiction or film; dance or music, the artists among us–the Lewis Carrolls and Wade Robsons; the Tim Burtons and the Johnny Depps–offer us a roller-coaster ride into the fantastic that–however briefly–enriches our reality and expands our worlds.


Entry filed under: Art, Books, Dance, Movies, Philosophy. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Good TV is NOT an Oxymoron Still Down The Rabbit Hole …

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenny  |  August 19, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Don’t forget, CA first came up with this storyline 15 years ago, he was 25 – hence the immature angle of the piece – I thought the dancing was very basic. I’m hoping the show is 90% CA and only 10% Cirque – its the only way I will stay awake….

  • 2. zennifer516  |  August 19, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Hi, Jenny! Thanks for your comment. I didn’t know that CA had been working on the idea for Believe for so long. I haven’t read much about the content or story line of this show–do fill me in. How much is magic/illusion? How much is “spectacle”?

    I didn’t even really know Cirque did much in the way of choreographed dancing until I saw them on SYTYCD. I think of them as acrobats and not dancers, but maybe that’s just my own ignorance of the art form talking.

    Will you be able to see the show live?

  • 3. Jenny  |  August 26, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    In one of Criss’ interviews, HE stated that he had been working on a CONCEPT of beLIEve for about 15 yrs. It’s taken this much time for someone to finally recognize his genius and back his vision! I love the fact that he capitalizes LIE in believe (i don’t know if this was Criss’ idea or not) but it is brilliant (although if its Criss’ idea, I’d like for him to ‘explain’ – just out of curiousity – does he ‘believe’ or does he think all belief is a LIE…… I originally had tickets to the opening (Sept. 1 and 2nd), but those shows were cancelled – I moved my tickets to Oct. 6th (I would have reset for Sept. 12, but I was afraid those would be ‘cancelled’ too, and didn’t want to risk having to rebook plane/hotel stuff AGAIN –
    On an aside note, while I am in Vegas, I got front row seats for Carrot Top, (I understand his tickets are hard to come by, so I can’t wait – and unless I am in the first 5 rows of a show/concert, I usually don’t waste the $$$) I travel to Vegas frequently and plan on moving there in 2009.

    I’m HOPING this show is MOSTLY Criss – I’ve “discretely left” 3 other Cirque shows – while they are visually brilliant – I got bored after 20 mins. (and I am a dancer!) This will make the 5 or 6th Cirque show permanently in Vegas – so looks like Cirque pretty much has the corner on entertainment there –

    On a funny note – David Copperfield is playing the MGM the same month that Criss’ show opens! I’m going to try and catch his show also!

    R u planning on attending ‘beLIEve” anytime soon?? I’d love to hear what you thought of the actual show.

  • 4. zennifer516  |  August 28, 2008 at 7:42 am

    BeLIEve it or not 😉 I’ve never been to Vegas, and never seen a Vegas show.

    But, you’re convincing me to check out Criss Angel!

    As for the beLIEve — I think it’s a fairly simple, but clever, double-meaning. It brings to mind all sorts of connotations. It’s the art of magic–making a deception appear to be true.

    That relationship between the magician and the audience is an interesting one: a magician’s task is not to create a real, supernatural event. It’s to make people forsake their own knowledge of the truth in favour of a deception that is executed so well, it defies explanation.

    If you believe a lie, is it the truth? Even when you know you have been deceived, does it matter if it’s not true? And isn’t it interesting that we can be entertained by being lied to?

    That latter explains any number of previous relationships I’ve had. LOL

    Come back and tell us all about the CA and DC shows, Jenny!

  • 5. Brent Calderwood  |  March 18, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Wow, stunning photos. Alice and Dorothy are my twin passions too! (Strange for a 34yo gay man to say, but true!) Are you still blogging on these topics? I have posted more illustrations at my blog, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” at “aravenislikeawritingdeskbecause [dot] blogspot [dot]com – Hope you enjoy, and please contribute if you like!


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