Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay…, SF

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?

Interdisciplinary performance work by Ralph Lemon
Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco
Oct. 7-9, 2010

Love, loss and possible redemption? Oh no!

I read Alex Ross’ article on John Cage, “Searching for Silence” (New Yorker, Oct. 4, 2010), on the way to see Ralph Lemon’s performance. It was a good warmup, since Cage and his colleague Merce Cunningham along with visual and sound artists broke the conventions of performance 50 years ago. Now here is Lemon, with the resources of film, video, projections, movement and text producing an “interdisciplinary performance” with more funds and yet less impact than the forerunners. Lemon’s exploration of “love, loss and possible redemption” as presented on Oct. 7 left this viewer impatient and irritated. For younger audiences who champion maximum minimalism and many words, “How can you stay…” was possibly revelation and exhilaration.

Mr. Lemon’s theater projects have included “The Geography Trilogy,” an exploration of race, history and memory on three continents, and “Three,” a dance/film created with choreographer Bebe Miller and filmmaker Isaac Julien. For “How can you stay…” Lemon worked with Walter Carter, a 102-year-old African-American from Mississippi. In the opening section in the theater and in the installation at YBCA in the screening room, we follow Walter and his wife, Edna, and parallel episodes from Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi film “Solaris” (1972).

Lemon narrates his deep responses to these personae while he reads his text, quoting from Walter Benjamin and other existential authors about art, life and meaning. Lemon tells his stories through incongruous material. It is all fascinating, hard to follow and personal–and oddly romantic. How are we, the audience, meeting all this material for the first time, to grasp it and respond?

In Part II, “Wall/hole,” six performers “move.” Lemon has described their work on film in Part I as a “disappearing dance,” a kind of “ecstasy” in endless movement, sometimes achieved through drink and drugs. The dancers collide, spin and tumble over and over, using flinging moves and falling steps and jumps. The scene goes on and on, almost too much, and leads to Okwui Okpokwasili’s crying jag (offstage, also too long, too much). Lemon’s loss of his partner and subsequent grief inspires these episodes, which though innovative in form do not arouse empathy. How are we invited in? The structure of the work is more closed than open, since Lemon’s material is exclusive and idiosyncratic. The evening concludes with a minimal duet for Lemon and Okpokwasili.

On Oct. 10, the installation “Meditation” will take place in the Novellus Theater. It is open any time between noon and 6 p.m. Lemon’s collaborators include video designer Jim Findlay, dramaturg Katherine Profeta, sound consultant Lucas Indelicato and lighting designer Roderck Murray.

(For another view of “How Can You Stay…” click on

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