Making Sense Of What I Saw Last Night Nov 19, 2010

by Paige

I highly recommend reading the program notes and the writings provided by Ralph Lemon before watching the piece. It helps to provide context and abstractly/subconsciously make sense of the autobiographical puzzle. I view the work as an individual's journey to understand and be at peace with love and nothingness through the act of creation.  How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere is a peacemaking effort by Ralph Lemon with knowledge and 'love, and its ghosts;' it is a search for grace, a place that Ralph states as 'the suspension... of contemplation.' 

The work is quiet and contemplative, with a simple/direct visual skin and complex nuanced interpersonal content. In the first half Ralph tells us a layered and multi-dimensional story accompanied by a film, which is inspired by the loss of his partner. He identifies his experience of loss with Tarkovsky' film Solaris, 'a sci-fi love rage.' He informs us about his interests as a choreographer and how through his research he meets Walter, a former sharecropper, and his wife Edna who later play a significant role in Ralph's journey to understand and accept 'love, and its ghosts.'  I personally think that Edna and Walter symbolically give Ralph permission to love again, to love Okwui.  The work is loaded with symbolism and after taking the time to re-read Ralph's writings and think about his intent, I want to see the work again. I have become invested in the struggle the work presents and how it can provide insight into love, healing and art-making.

The second half of the work is a live choreographic manifestation of his struggle with knowledge represented through the interest in 'compositional formlessness' and a search for ecstasy and transcendence. I am reminded of the dances that I have read about in Santería trance rituals used for communicating with their ancestors and deities. Eyes are rolled back and perspective is inward to distort visual field and the understanding that comes from the eyes, joints are loose in order to be available and receive energetic information from the universe, the dancers move as if inhabited from an outside force yet they willingly invite the outside occupation. The bodies fall like the floor was shifted underneath them and as if a phantom partner was knocking their joints out. There is an instability and fragility yet as an audience member I have confidence in their security. I see the dancers trusting their own abandonment knowing it is to serve a higher purpose - to transcend like they could commune with the dead. As Ralph states it was movement 'activated by keywords from really bad things that happened to known and unknown black and white people during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.' I felt as if I was watching a modern day séance.
The duration of the crying outbreak was a surprise to me; it felt senseless and agonizing. I thought of an insane asylum; a place where reason, a sense of purpose and connection with the earth is loose or lost. This is followed with a brief animated animal video section that I found conceptually mysterious and simultaneously stunning. I believe that animals can provide ineffable wisdom when human reason appears to be inadequate. Perhaps this is why the animals appear. The Rabbit character played by Ralph Lemon strikes me as the perfect animal to identify with in this work. Written about in the book Animal Speak, rabbits symbolically represent fertility and new life.  They 'are associated with the concept of being, powers of the moon...,sensitive and artistic..., and their defense is hiding and resting.'  I see the animals represented in this work as symbols of ineffable wisdom, a symbol of grace and peace with being. The rabbit is a spiritual companion to give him permission for a new life.

In the end Ralph comes onto stage for a solo, which is then joined by Okwui.  The lights are warmer. His movement echoed the trance-like state of the previous dance but conscious in its mimicry, there was resoluteness to it, an understanding, quietude, a calm study and a sense of patience. The verbal 'yes' ending, I interpreted as if he was saying yes to the current moment, to a new beginning and to love. Like he was yelling 'okay already, I get it, I'll stop the rumination and say yes!'

Written by Paige Barnes