Visiting artist shares keys to life

By Erika DeLeo
Staff Writer

Equal parts dancer, teacher and storyteller, Einstein look-alike Len Barron celebrates old age and average intelligence.

As part of the Southwest Writers Series hosted by Prescott College, Barron held performances and workshops between March 21-23 at the Granite Performing Arts Center (GPAC) on South Granite Street in Prescott, and at the Crossroads Center at Prescott College.

Six women sat in a circle on the bare floor of the dimly-lit GPAC, admiring Barron as he moved with a lightness and grace that seemed to defy physics and his age. Barron, in his late seventies, thinks getting older is great. “I don’t know a single person over age 65 who would want to be 25 again,” said Barron. It is difficult to be young and not know where you are going in life, he recognized.

In his workshop, “Soft Turns and Surprises,” participants danced to Guy Clark’s “Somedays the Song Writes You,” in any fashion they wanted, as long as the movements were “small.” Barron went first: Each gliding movement wove into the next as he used his whole body at once. Moving his arms, legs and torso together, he never strayed more than a couple of feet in any direction. An apartment he once lived in, he said, was so small as to necessitate this kind of compact dancing, and he grew to enjoy it.

“Dance is my favorite medium … I like slow,” Barron said to the onlookers. “I like soft, and we live in a world that is very fast,” he nearly whispered. The next day, he charmed an audience with “Einstein and Niels Bohr: A Fairy Tale,” as he told anecdotes from the lives of these famous physicists. Through these stories, Barron shed light on the philosophical themes of intelligence, fairness, beauty and playfulness. “I’ve been blessed with average intelligence,” he said cheerfully.

Barron began with a song by Frank Sinatra. With his gentle demeanor and soft voice, he sang a cappella: “You’ll find that it’s hard to be narrow of mind, if you’re young at heart…” setting the stage for his speech on how imagination is more important than knowledge. Barron recounted Einstein’s famous words: “When I think of my method of thought, the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my capacity to absorb knowledge.”

“Knowledge can only take you so far,” Barron explained, bushy eyebrows raised in sincerity. “To get beyond that, you can’t use a logical thought process. It takes a leap of faith, a great sense of playfulness and wonder.” Barron quoted Einstein’s criticism of modern education, and how it depletes students’ capacity for fairness and playfulness: “Competitive mentality prevails in schools and destroys feelings of human fraternity and cooperation.”

He advised the rapt audience: “Find anybody whose life is rooted in fairness, beauty and playfulness. Two things are guaranteed: One, they lead a fertile life, and two, they are dearly loved.”

Enlightenment happens early on, Barron concluded. “By three years old, [children] have learned the ways of the world, and they love to dance!”

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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