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NUDE for Zorbacchus!

by Dr. Susan Block

Beautiful Nude Nymphs dance and toss flowers to the crowd in their Bacchanalian Rite of Spring. Note the hirsute, elfin sprite clad in red sitting in the midst of it all: That's Zorbacchus! PHOTO: SUZY

"Full nakedness! All my joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys."

John Donne, "To His Mistress Going to Bed" (1669)

Every last weekend in May, the good and sensuous people of Pasadena, Altadena, Los Angeles and beyond wind their ways up through the Altadena Hills until they reach a very special place where they celebrate the Rites of Spring in a fashion that would be appreciated by the primeval followers of Dionysus, Eros and Aphrodite.

The Nude Dance for Zorbacchus begins! Note the nude violinist on the left carrying her infant as she plays for Zorbacchus and his Nymphs. PHOTOS: SUZY

As the sun sets over the mountains, art interweaves with nature, wine flows easily, whole hogs are roasted over pits, vegetables and herbs of all sorts are consumed, musicians make music, satyrs make mischief, children play, grown-ups unwind, and beautiful naked nymphs with flowers in their hair dance around a hoary elfin sprite in red, the embodiment of Dionysius Himself, world-renowned artist and pillar of the Altadena-Pasadena community Colonel Jirayr Hamparzoom Zorthian, known to his ecstatic devotees and neighbors as Zorbacchus.

Nymphs frolick as the fiddler plays. The Baby takes in the scene as Zorbacchus basks in the revelry. PHOTOS: SUZY

I met Zorthian/Zorbacchus several years ago at Stage Blue, a bi-coastal 300th anniversary celebration of Yale University's multiple contributions to modern American entertainment. We stood out in the crowd of almost uniformly dark blue and grey-suited Yale alumni--Zorthian (Yale Class of '36) in his handcrafted belt and extravagant, flowing beard, and I (Yale Class of '77) in my hat, Egyptian scarf and miniskirt. Our eyes lit up as soon as we saw each other and recognized that we were kindred wild-at-hearts who managed to survive venerable old Eli Yale on opposite sides of the Bushes.

Zorthian (Yale Class of '36) and me (Yale Class of '77)
at Yale's Stage Blue Celebration PHOTO: MAX

Our spouses, my Max and his Dabney, also hit it off. So, it wasn't long before we, along with our art curator Kim Mendoza, were visiting them on their legendary Altadena ranch, admiring Zorthian's uniquely whimsical, skillfully rendered, classically-themed and thought-provoking art, as well as Dabney's fine boho hospitality.

Zorthian and I, along with Dabney, Kim Mendoza, Samantha and members of the Zorthian family stand before the Great Zorthian Wall on his Altadena Ranch. .. PHOTO: GREG ANDERSON

Being the "ethical hedonists" that we are, we found Zorthian's erotic art especially impressive.

Zorthian and I flank one of his great erotic paintings. Click on the photo to see the painting in a better light. PHOTO: GREG ANDERSON

at Dr. Susan Block's SPEAKEASY GALLERY
Curator: Kim Mendoza

In between personal visits, we have attended a couple of his Spring Bacchanals, called "Primaveras," enjoying the bounty of food, drink and homespun music, along with the inimitable dance of the nude nymphs.

The Nymphs feed Zorbacchus his favorite Fruit of the Vine, as the Little One rests by his Mother. PHOTOS: SUZY

One year, Kim and I presented Zorthian with a Jolie Barry photo of us dancing (half, if not totally naked) in the Zorbacchian tradition.

"Patriot Dance" featuring Kim and Me
From the Speakeasy Gallery Exhibit DEMOCRATIC SEX

Each Spring, we discover new spirits and old friends at the Zorbacchus Bacchanal. Our first visit, we were startled but not surprised to find out that one of our favorite Civil Rights attorneys John Burton (who helped us out in our famous LAPD case) has been a Zorbacchian for many a year. Last Spring, we encountered Sallie Hofmeister, the distinguished LA Times business journalist who had covered the initial stages of our two-year media battle with former Adelphia CEO (and now indicted felon!) John J. Rigas, over his illegal censorship of The Dr. Susan Block Show. Having only spoken by phone and seen her writing, I'd always thought of Ms. Hofmeister as a rather conservative business writer, but there she was reveling (with her clothes on, as far as we saw) long into the night along with the other neo-dionysians, young and old. Ride, Sallie, ride!

Dancing with the Great God Pan at the Zorbacchus Bacchannal; Izzie, Katie and Samantha in my 10 gallon shadow; two-fisted beer drinker and esteemed Civil Rights Attorney John Burton, More Pan Dancing: Zorthian and Me (at the party and on a personal visit), Samantha and Izzie; LA Times Business Writer Sallie Hofmeister and Me; a Girl and her Dog mesmerized by the Dance of the Nude Nymphs. .. PHOTOS: KIM MENDOZA, RICHARD NOVEY, SUZY

The entire Zorbacchus Experience is a blast--a Bohemian Grove for Regular Folks. But it's the Dance of the Nude Nymphs that reigns supreme, being one of the more controversial Zorbacchus traditions, as well as one of the most beloved. The local Puritans decry the practice because the dancers are, well, nude. And nude they shall remain.

"To see you naked is to recall the Earth," declares Federico Garcia Lorca in Casida de la Mujer Tendida. Ain't that the Pan's honest truth...

Most of the Nymphs are slim as gazelles. But the one in the middle is more voluptuous, round and full, like Mother Earth. All forms of naked beauty are celebrated at the Zorbacchus Bacchannal. PHOTOS: SUZY

Life's passages interweave with the dance. Two year's ago, the nude violinist was eight months' pregnant, her bare round belly a testament to the Earth's fecundity. The next Spring, she was playing her exquisite fiddle, nude again, but now carrying her infant with a shoulder strap. Lullaby baby...

In the midst of it all, sits Zorthian/Zorbacchus. The sprightly old rancher attributes his extraordinary health and longevity (as of this writing, he is 92) to fine art, good wine and being surrounded by a bevy of beautiful naked women at least once a year.

More naked revelries... PHOTOS: SUZY

His long life could also be due to other aspects of its extraordinariness. Born on April 14, 1911 in Kutahya, Turkey, of Armenian parents, at the tender age of three, little Jirayr, like the young Picasso and so many other great artists, astounded his relatives with his preternatural skill in drawing and painting. By the age of eight, he was an expert in the art of survival, having lived through two Turkish massacres. At eleven, he came to the United States and settled in New Haven, Connecticut with his family. He graduated from Yale with honors in 1936, and received a Winchester Fellowship at the American Academy of Rome. From there, he went on to become one of the great painters of our times, as well as architect, designer, friend, lover, father, grandfather, great grandfather, mentor, party animal and connoisseur of joie de vivre. These photos attest to that!

Dance and Be Nude before the Old and the Young. The Renaissance Faire was never so good! .. PHOTO: SUZY

Postscript: Colonel Jirayr H. Zorthian passed away on January 6, 2004 (about six months after the above story was posted). He was 92. The photos above commemorate the last Primavera that included Jirayr H. Zorthian. But the Spirit of Zorbacchus lives on. His wife Dabney, the rest of his family and friends are carrying on all of the great Zorbacchus traditions, including host a marvelous Primavera 2004, in which the nymphs danced nude around an empty chair, Zorthian's chair. Suddenly, just like in a Tibetan folktale, the baby boy of the violinist (pictured above) crawled into the empty chair, the better to enjoy the dance of naked art and love. Yes, despite death and loss of all kinds, the Spirit of Zorbacchus lives on and on and on.


at Dr. Susan Block's SPEAKEASY GALLERY
Curator: Kim Mendoza



Col. Jirayr H. Zorthian, "Erotica" 1991
Charcoal and prisma color, 40" X 60"
To purchase email gallery@blockbooks.com or please call 213.749.1330



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