Ralph Lemon’s “How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?”
On the Boards, Seattle, WA., November 18th-21st, 2010
By E. Joyce Glasgow
Dancer/Choreographer/Conceptualist, Ralph Lemon, was able to capture love, loss and the fragility of human life, as well as commenting on civil rights in his piece, “How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?” performed at Seattle’s, On the Boards, November 18th-21st, 2010. Lemon lost his partner of three years to illness and expresses that loss in a thread of narration with films and then live dance by his company of dancers in this piece.
The first half featured Lemon reading in a spotlight while showing clips from a decade long performance project “ the Geography Trilogy”, “exploring the ‘Conceptual materials’ of race, history, memory and the creative process” and various scenes from the Japanese film, Late Spring (1949), the Soviet era, Russian film, Solaris (1972) and film of his artistic mentor, Walter Carter, a 102 year old (in 2002) former sharecropper and his 82 year old wife, Edna. In the Late Spring clip, a man is seen sitting alone, reflectively, slowly peeling an apple. The peel very simply falls to the floor and a sense of loneliness is created. The film, being in stark black and white, adds to the sense of desolation. In Solaris, a delicate dance of emotions, of give and take, of love between a man and a woman, the woman, an apparition of the man’s dead lover, keeps reappearing to him in intimate and warm engagement. In the Walter sections, first at the beginning of the evening, we see Walter rolling and fantasizing in his homemade spaceship, then comically pretending to beat up a person in a rabbit suit. (Rabbits seem to be an ongoing theme throughout this piece). Later we see Walter and Edna reenacting the intimate scene between the two lovers in Solaris and then partner dancing, doing a touching and physically difficult waltz, quietly together. This segment is simple, subtle, sweet, loving and bittersweet and a reminder to the viewer of the inescapable fact of human mortality.
Lemon tended to over intellectualize in his verbal written presentation and the film clips were a nice balance to neutralize some of this headiness, as they felt more intuitive. Lemon’s dancers performed a chaotic/ecstatic dance in the second half, (a part of which was shown on film on the first half of the program, as part of “The Geography Trilogy” video segment). Lemon’s dancers were totally committed to going beyond themselves, emotionally and physically, pushing their limits in their chaos/ecstasy dance to the point of both emotional and physical exhaustion and catharsis. I could barely keep myself in my chair as I wished to join them in freeing my emotions and spirit in extreme physical expression. It was odd to feel bound in stillness in my chair, a social protocol of being a respectful audience member.
Once the dancers were thoroughly spent and the stage was bare, we could hear the sounds of a woman off- stage wailing and crying from a very deep and real place in her own personal grief. Her depth of grief was so palpable that it brought me to a place within myself of connecting with my own personal grief and I couldn’t help but to be moved to tears of recognition, in empathy with her. There was a feeling of great discomfort in the audience at this point and I could tell that her emotional outpouring moved the audience in different ways. There was also a sense of helplessness to be able to comfort this unseen woman. When she finally emerged from the shadows on to the stage, many audience members were having a very difficult time looking at her. Having purged her considerable sadness, she proceeded to a front row seat and pulled out a tambourine, hidden underneath and began to quietly walk off stage. The tambourine to me represented a symbol of hope, to keep moving on, soldiering forward through your grief, into the future. This may have been a good point to end the piece, albeit, not a very strong one, with all that went before. However, the piece continued in a direction that didn’t feel all that connected with what went before, with wonderful, high tech projections on the back wall of wild and domestic animals gathering in a group (including that human rabbit again) and then Lemon and a female dancer came out and danced. These last two sections seemed superfluous, overly long and a bit self-indulgent to include and they just left me with no feeling in particular. When I leave a theatre, dance or music performance, I like to feel that what I saw and heard was memorable and inspiring to me in some lasting way. I found that after I left Ralph Lemon’s “How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?”, I felt nothing in particular; just that I had spent almost two hours seeing another unremarkable performance art piece that had received gushing reviews from some high profile critics. I’d like to have perceived it the way they did, with such high enthusiasm, but that wasn’t the case.To learn more about upcoming events at On the Boards visit www.ontheboards.org. For more information on Ralph Lemon and his company visit www.ralphlemon.net.