Ralph Lemon at BAM
How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?
NY premiere by Ralph Lemon, BAM Next Wave Festival, October 13-16, 2010
The first part of Ralph Lemon’s new performance piece “How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Do Anything?” consists of the artist, seated by a microphone and playing narrator to “Sunshine Room,” the video that plays behind him on a large screen. In it, new material and found footage combine, mainly to display overlapping themes from his previous body of work as well as heartfelt thoughts on the death of his partner, the Odissi dancer Asako Takami, who died of cancer in 2007. Excerpts play from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris— the 1972 film about a man who is visited by his wife’s ghost—along with re-creations of scenes from that film. The new footage features 102-year-old ex-sharecropper Walter Carter and his 80-year-old wife Edna. Lemon met Carter back in 2002 in Mississippi when he was researching “Come Home Charlie Patton,” 2004, and Carter has been showing up in Lemon’s work ever since.
In the ending portion of “Come Home,” which was Lemon’s last full-length work for the stage, dancers throw themselves about in an ecstatic, aggressively physical movement sequence without discernable pattern. This was also featured prominently in the video. We see footage from the old performance as well as recent rehearsals of work being created in the same vein. Lemon, as the live-narrator, explains the footage: “What you are watching is a ‘drunk and stoned dance’ with a few rigorous parameters…and in this zone, gap, void, where they diligently want to follow the rules but can’t—that is where I want this work to live and flourish.” After the video and narration portion, part two of the performance features Djédjé Djédjé Gervais, Darrell Jones, Gesel Mason, Owui Okpokwasili, Omagbitse Omagbemi and David Thompson dancing this beautiful but confounding piece of material, sober of course.
Underlying the lecture-performance Lemon designed for part one is a lot: a riff on the visiting artist’s talk; an evolution of 1990s European non-dance dance made popular by the French choreographers Jérôme Bel and Xavier Le Roy; a performance of theory, specifically of the ideas of spectator emancipation developed by Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière. But Lemon’s explicitly stated intention in this piece, overarching the three distinct sections, is to move beyond or outside of form itself. To do so—to be free of form—is nearly impossible when dealing with bodies that have ingested and, in a sense, become their physical training and technique; hence, perhaps, the idea of drunk and stoned dancing. Likewise, disruptive cross-disciplinary forms like combines of lecture-performance and staged video are by now so established, his attempts to disrupt form are obvious failures.
Lemon, however, is more interested in the questions and problems he poses, and is just fine without the achievement of answers or solutions per se, as he continues to posit the unanswerable. In the film from the first half of the performance, Carter, we’re told, asks dancer Okpokwasili (who plays “the Hare”) the performance’s title question, “How can you stay in the house all day and not do anything?” In response, Lemon our narrator says, “The hare stares blankly. The question is, of course, the answer and the form in which the answer exists.” So in a search for formlessness, we come to this: a question as the essence of form.
Okpokwasili and Lemon perform the third part of the evening-length performance in a section titled “Come Home,” which starts with Okpokwasili’s loud, long off-stage wailing. When she enters the stage and picks up a tambourine—back to the audience, audibly crying with her broad, strong shoulders slightly hunched—the slight gesture seems to indicate both the necessity and the futility of art at moments of desperation and despair. Later, Lemon walks onto the stage wearing one sock, removes it halfway through a weightless-seeming movement sequence, folds it, places it on his knee, and then dances tenderly with it. Finally, the two brilliant dancers move together on stage to close the work. Quieter and more resolute, their minimal duet was a distillation of the massively physical ending sequence from “Charlie Patton,” where this thread of meaning began. It looked the way pain feels as it fades over time. Internal violence is replaced by nagging sensation; memory intact, but you still have to show up to dance on stage with your one white sock.