But he will always say, “It’s fu…” Nov 19, 2010

by Brian F

If you aren’t holding a ticket to Ralph Lemon’s show, stop reading this right now and jump to the Box Office button on this website and buy one.  RIGHT NOW.  Word has it that the run is nearly sold out. The piece is at the end of its historic North American tour and word further has it that the dancers have reached their limit and that the piece very likely won’t be performed again (at least in this incarnation) after Seattle.  When you witness the rigor, courage, focus, vulnerability and athleticism in extremis of their dancing, you’ll understand.

How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? is a mesmerizing, gut-wrenching, lyrical, celebratory, devastating meditation on grief.

At the center of the piece – which is more than likely very close to the edge and not anywhere near the center really, but rather where I decided for myself the center was for my own purposes – is the personage of Walter Carter, a man Lemon met quite by happenstance while researching lynching sites in the Deep South and with whom Lemon developed a sort of artistic collaboration. The work they created together, with its use of simple materials, direct point of view and obsessive attention to detail is reminiscent of the “naïve” or “outsider” art of many African American visual artists from the Deep South.
(Lemon might want to throttle me for that.  The sweet thing about visiting artists is that they do their work and leave town, greatly reducing the chance of running into them in a bar and getting your nose bloodied.)

Ralph Lemon’s work here is also about teachers.  And about losing them.  The piece is dedicated to his partner, Asako Takami, Walter Carter, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch – all dead.  What the fuck?

Lemon (like Chinese-American theatre artist Ping Chong) is a former protégé of the performance creator Meredith Monk (thankfully still with us!).  Monk also explores, among other things, the notion of “identity” – sexual, ethnic, cultural, whatever – with an interdisciplinary, constantly-questioning methodology.  And Monk’s approach is deeply influenced by her own “nurse tree” from Sarah Lawrence, Beverly Schmidt Blossom. It is this appreciation for and acknowledgement of creative lineage that is at the core of my FOREVER ADMIRATION of OtB; Lane and Sarah, and the entire staff, and the works they work hard to present.  Any performance at the Boards rests in the deeper context of what has come before or what may be imagined beyond it. A Seattle artist in last night’s audience was being influenced and/or inspired by Ralph Lemon.  Lemon (and/or, earlier, Chong) might not have been here to influence artists if it were not for the groundwork laid by Monk and her predecessors. A night at the Boards incites us to ask our own questions of the works, of the artists and, by extension, of their inspirations and influences.  And from the launch pad of those inquiries we all get to giddily embark on voyages – sometimes virtual (You Tube, On the and, if we’re lucky, actual (Frequent Flyer miles) – to the creative worlds of Monk, Foreman, Bausch, Cunningham, Cage, Duchamp… And in those nether creative worlds we find – no answers.  Not even attempts at answers.  Only questions.  Questions from super smart, sexy artists who won’t/don’t/didn’t stop asking them.  And enigmas. And ellipses.  And challenges to us, as the audience, to – as in life - fill in the blanks.  Until it’s all suddenly, sometimes rudely, inturru…
In a video clip which was thoughtfully provided on this website (There's that hard working staff again!) via a link from San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Lemon shares the following until, quite by chance – or magic – or poetry – the video clip cuts off in the middle of Lemon quoting Walter’s word:

I ask Walter what he thinks about the work we’re doing all the time and he says that he doesn’t care.  Literally, “I don’t care what this is.” Um… if I ask him what…the next day…what we did the day before, he won’t remember.  But he will always say, “It’s fu…”

Of course, the word is – or must have been – “fun”.  Anyway, that’s what it is – or must be – for me.  You might very well fill in the blank differently.

At one point in the piece, we are confronted by a dog without its master.  The dog waits.  It is very nearly the saddest thing in the entire world; a dog waiting for the return of its completion.  That dog won’t hunt.  What the fuck? And a dog that won’t hunt is nearly as sad as a dancer who won’t dance.  The dog is eventually joined by other creatures – they too alone.  And together they ride in a sort of ark of sorrow, where all gods’ creatures travel in ones instead of twos on a sea of tears, no doubt provided by the remarkable Okwui Okpokwasili during her tour-de-force solo section in the piece, which must be endured to be believed.  There are no answers for these passengers.  Only questions:  Where is my completion?  When will it come back?  What will my next move be?  Why even make one? How will I finish this sentence? 

At the end - because at the end this piece is about being alive - there is Ralph Lemon.  And he dances...  Oh, yes!  …with a partner.