Ralph Lemon’s “How Can You Stay in the House All Day
And Not Go Anywhere?”
A stark, empty stage.
A woman wailing in the wings.
For about 10 minutes.
That seemed like an hour.
A public catharsis for the loss of a specific woman.
And the loss of the feminine in every woman under thousands of years of patriarchy.
When Janet Stapleton told me the title of a unique cross disciplinary experience premiering in NYC at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had to laugh. Perfect! If this doesn’t get me out of the house, nothing will!
Ralph Lemon had been absent from New York stage for six years.
What is so remarkable about his comeback is that his public act of private grieving has provided a universal narrative for a new paradigm ascending. The most memorable component of this four part (monologue, film, live dance and “Meditation”) multi-media interactive experience, described above, had no movement at all.
Yet, it precipitates an entirely new movement in art.
What was so magical for me personally will resonate with my readers. Lemon, in relating his surrender of postmodernism language to the death of his beloved girlfriend, showed segments from a film they watched together in the final stages of her illness. It was Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris, which I hadn’t seen, though I analyzed the 1992 remake a few posts ago on this blog.
The protagonist of Lemon’s parallel film is Walter Carter, a Mississippi Delta native born at the turn of the century. This Walter is a stand-in for another Walter: Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the German intellectual whose “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” anticipated the late stages of postmodernism. Lemon juxtaposes his two Walters in his opening monologue against the backdrop of Walter’s entrapment. The protagonist transforms into a hare as representation of the underground journey that he — and the audience — will travel to embrace Lemon’s non-linear narrative — and subsequently make the leap in consciousness out of postmodernism — to something entirely new.
We are provided with a prescient view of Walter in his initial entrapment in a cage (projected in video) to the place of his release into the sacred marriage of heaven and earth, represented by the falling of an identity of this “everyman” as spaceman into the ordered fields of the sharecropper. He arrives via an intimate real life staging of Tarkovsky’s avant-garde film, his home transformed into space via cellophane covering the bed that he shares with his partner Edna. Their dance in imitation of the dance in the lovers of the film (above) was proclaimed by the filmmaker/choreographer as a real experiment in overcoming the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, meaning the artist/scientist holding the camera acknowledged his own role in the unscripted actions of his real life actors dancing in their living room.
This authentic breakthrough revealed in the title — which got me out of the house and to my first performance in over a year — into multiple levels of meaning. On one level, he admonishes his peers in the avant-garde performance world as to how they can “stay at home” with outworn languages of movement while a new configuration is yearning to be revealed! The entrapment in the Solaris space station, mimicks the entrapment of Walter in the cage, yet this multi-media imaging of the embodiment of a new archetype is transformed into a liberating authenticity via the unscripted performance of Walter and Edna in their tacky living room. Release into the momentary experience of the archetypal is what frees them, and the avant-garde itself, from being the mere object of an artistic experiment but rather a movement towards real human connection in deep inner and outer space. In beating the drum for unity of the opposites in this manner: a universal archetype (personified by the spaceman falling to earth) in such an intimate everyday reality as a sharecropper’s home, and then transmitted to the most avant-garde audiences in New York City! That very act of transformation reveals the destination of the surrender experienced with the dying lover into the weightless lovers of Solaris, triumphing over the copy to experience what is real and authentic.
On another level, the artist is revealing the struggle embedded in the work, which is also the central struggle of Solaris: how to distinguish the real, the authentic, from the copy? He might as well been asking his protagonist the namesake for the philosopher of the postmodern how to distinguish the Real under the relentless cynicism of the all-knowing postmodern ego?
Originally a choreographer, Lemon attempts to find this Holy Grail in a merging of opposites: abandonment of the highly developed dance body with the public body of his ordinary hero, Walter Carter. In doing so, he creates a language of freedom of movement that extends The Geography Trilogy theme of his 2005 work to the rectangular space of the stage, even as projected in film. Within the confinement of a stark, unadorned stage which absorbs his words and images, he creates a geometry of movement through Reichian charged bodies surrendered to the internal movement of the Kundalini, a free form attraction/repulsion through the Eros/Thantos play of opposites in space. A visual and visceral language of the very meaning embedded in numbers: the solo, the duo, the trilogy (triangle), the quartet (cube) and pentagram (five). Revealing sexual desire of the pentagram as the fear (projected by Christians as the Devil) of being left out, the fifth ending up alone in the center of a quartet.
This stripped down, naked show of emotional vulnerability is not only setting a new standard for the brave in New York performance, it is also huge leap forward for the language of the avant-garde. The coding that Lemon has formally delivered to the body in movement out of the current struggle of the five, the struggle to contain our very desires, is hurtling towards a geometry of a new archetype: the harmony of the six, the sacred marriage of opposites that we yearn for in romantic love. It remains, in the final gesture, as a goal rather than a destination. Fortunately for us, this leaves something for Lemon to explore in the future, just as he has left something for us to explore in ourselves through his final act, “Meditation,” a multimedia installation on the stage of the Kitchen theater, on the final day of the performance.
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