How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? continues a relationship between Ralph Lemon and the Walker that dates back more than 15 years. In 1995, Lemon dissolved his successful dance company, abandoning the familiarity of New York and his own creative process to embark on open-ended research that has taken him around the globe. Since then, he has evolved into a kind of modern-day choreographic contemplative, merging text, media, sound, and visual art with dance. The Walker supported Lemon’s Geography Trilogy, a 10-year project that merged research and performance in exploring race, history, and memory, first in Africa (Geography, 1997); then Asia, tracing the Buddha’s migration through India, Indonesia, China, and Japan (Tree, 2000); and finally the southern United States (Come home Charley Patton, 2004).
Lemon embarks on a new stage of his multifaceted career with How Can You Stay…?, another Walker commission and the central element in the diagram pictured below, which he made during his 2009 summer residency at the Walker. As a kind of “mental map,” it shows Lemon playing with the idea of where this piece fits into his creative life: “It’s trying to give structure to what was going on in my brain, what was generating this new work,” he says. The artist offers further thoughts in the annotations below the sketch.
How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?
This four-part multimedia performance includes original short films featuring Walter Carter, as well as passages for Lemon’s stunningly powerful ensemble of six African American and African performers, all but one of whom appeared in Come home Charley Patton. In a recent interview, Lemon called it “an attempt to share as much as I can about a very profound experience for me, an idea of love and loss and perhaps the offer of a component of grace. I’m asking, in a very severe way, where does this idea of the reality or the truth of something really engage the artificial? I’m trying to break down what I know of theater and dance, but to do it within those containers.”
At the same time, Lemon creates an undeniably intense, even visceral experience for the audience with a work that he views as a personal landmark. “It’s not dancing, not choreography,” he says. “At some point the audience stops seeing the form of it, or what they project they should be seeing, and they start to witness something else, which becomes very individual. The facade of the work is brutality, but the core is purifying.”
Mr. Walter Carter
A lifelong—and purportedly the oldest—resident of Little Yazoo, Mississippi, Walter Carter was born in 1907 and spent his working life as a sharecropper, carpenter, and gardener. Lemon developed a creative relationship with him and his wife, Edna, after they met in 2002.
Besides being part of the inspiration for How Can You Stay…? and other works, Carter was the focus of a host of mixedmedia elements in (the efflorescence of ) Walter, an installation presented at the Walker in 2006. (Read more about Walter and Little Yazoo in a blog post by Walker photographer Cameron Wittig, who worked in Mississippi with Lemon on How Can You Stay…?.)
Lemon’s work with Carter in Mississippi often included shooting video footage of him and his wife, Edna. The pair appear in the film that opens How Can You Stay…?, a backdrop to Lemon’s narration about, as he says, “the themes and preoccupations of the last five years and how they may, or may not, be reflected in the performance.”
In some passages, Walter and Edna “remake” passages from two landmark art films in which the protagonist undertakes a daunting mission in outer space: Andrei Tarkovsky’s poetic masterpiece Solaris and Jean-Luc Godard’s irreverent Alphaville.
After attempting to spark in his performers “extremes of emotionality” during the development of How Can You Stay…?, Lemon devised an exercise with them involving intentional, ritualized inebriation. He called the experience “interesting … I wasn’t sure how useful it was afterward. Still, it was a nice mark in breaking down the idea of what we know physically and what I know compositionally, as a director and choreographer.”
Some of the choreography in How Can You Stay…?, he notes, is “like being drunk but it’s generated by will, with my directorial pushing, to go beyond what my performers would comfortably do. It’s the experience of being out of control, consciously.”
Lyon Opera Ballet/Rescuing the Princess
The French ballet company noted for its experimental repertoire commissioned Rescuing the Princess from Lemon in 2009, during the development of How Can You Stay…?. Both works include similar “recycled” or retooled elements, including passages inspired by the “Drunk Dances” experiment.
Refers to a single performance by Lemon and Okwui Okpokwasili in 2008. How Can You Stay…? includes “the residue” from that duet, Lemon says, whose origins are only “hinted at.”
Come home Charley Patton(remember?)
Lemon’s research on lynching sites for Come home Charley Patton took him to rural Mississippi, where he met Walter Carter. The artist notes that How Can You Stay…? is a continuation of the final moments of this 2004 work, whose themes based around memory—its simultaneous power and unreliability—also carry over.
A reference to a large-scale light installation derived from the mise-en-scène for the Lyon Opera Ballet work. Now titled Meditation, it’s an epilogue to How Can You Stay…?, distilling the motions of that work through a mesmerizing play of projected light and shadow that transforms the McGuire Theater into a gallery.
“Going forward, I’m looking at the meaning of being an artist, and what might be my place in that.”