Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Agony and the Ecstasy

November 11, 2010

From Ralph Lemon's How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? at REDCAT Photo: Ralph Lemon

Los Angeles is extremely lucky to have the work of artist Ralph Lemon in performance at REDCAT this week. His latest piece, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, opened with the first of four performances on Wednesday at the black box theater downtown. It is fresh, exciting, and perhaps one of the best dance pieces seen in L.A. this year. Of course, to call How Can You Stay a dance work woefully misses the point. Lemon has always worked in a wide variety of forms, both performance based and otherwise, and while his six member dance troupe does occupy the largest part of this evening there is a lot more going on.

In fact there are almost too many things going on to wrap your head around. Lemon and his troupe, Cross Performance, are addressing themes of personal loss, death, and the limits of art in expressing these things. In fact Lemon, who appears in the first and last segments of the show, makes no secret of the specifics of how he personally fits into this conversation. Two central figures in Lemon’s life, his partner Asako Takami and collaborator/subject/muse Walter Carter, both died in the interim between his last major work, 2004’s Come Home Charley Patton, and the debut of How Can You Stay this year. Lemon details some of the personal and artistic details of this period in live commentary to the film “Sunshine Room” that represents the first part of How Can You Stay. In addition to these personal recollections, Lemon also discusses elements of Charley Patton and how the new work developed from it. “Sunshine Room” also includes footage of Walter Carter, a former Mississippi sharecropper born in 1908, and his wife Edna who are enlisted to re-enact scenes from Tarkovsky’s 1972 science fiction film Solaris, another seminal work about death and what follows it for the living.

If you’re getting the impression this is heady stuff, you’re right. But it’s provoking, challenging, and suggests far more questions than it answers. As "Sunshine Room" ends, the dancers appear live on stage and delve into a somewhat formless flailing that has the appearance of an improvisation. This uncoordinated lunging picks up where Charley Patton left off with Lemon and his troupe looking for a new language of movement. It would be fair to argue they may have achieved one. The choreography feels exciting and unpredictable. Lemon describes the movement at one point as intending to mimic ecstasy, and he has a point. It can be physically exhausting to watch, but the energy is unique. At one point a dancer wails into a piece of clothing held to his mouth. Later, another stands on stage alone and wails with body-wrenching sobs, her back to the audience until she reaches for a tambourine which goes unplayed. In the conclusion to How Can You Stay, video projections of Lemon in a hare costume (another of the work’s central motifs) intermingles with the white ghostly images of animals until they all disappear only to be replaced by Lemon in the flesh. He and a female dancer enact a series of slow, more methodical stances until he lies on the floor. The final spoken words of the evening include Lemon proposing answers to the very questions he has spent the prior 90-minutes asking – Yes, Yes, Whoa, and Yes. In the face of the endlessly unbelievable arrival of death, there is little else but to go on living, Lemon seems to suggest. How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? is complex and fascinating to watch mostly because it so artfully poses the questions that often serve as their own answers. I highly recommend it, and runs through Sunday the 14th.


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