Ralph Lemon, Urbana, IL

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Ralph Lemon / Cross Performance, Inc.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Urbana, IL
Sept. 16, 2010


Dancers from Ralph Lemon’s company perform in “How Can You Stay…”

Ralph Lemon’s “How Can you Stay in the House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?” was as much a test of its audience’s will power as it was a test of its performers’ endurance.

Lemon and his company, Cross Performance, Inc., presented a multimedia-driven, bittersweet portrait of human existence. What began as a lengthy in-house movie screening became a fragmented juxtaposition of shorter live scenes, which turned both the performers and the audience members into a spectacle of sorts.

Lemon invited his audience to share in his creative process by narrating the melancholy 30-minute film that began the performance. “The Walter Project,” as the film is so appropriately titled, illustrates the relationship between Lemon and Walter Carter, a 100-year-old black man who has lived his entire life in Mississippi.

Walter is introduced in a slightly absurdist light; he is first seen in a glittery silver spacesuit, log-rolling in a life-size birdcage, while Lemon reads to him off screen. “This is one of my lessons,” Lemon explained, in reference to Walter’s odd behavior.

Walter’s movement throughout the video acts as a foreshadowing of the inevitable effects of aging; though he is said to have once loved “juke joint dances” such as the one-step, the two-step and the slow drag, Walter’s movements have slowed over time and now lack vibrancy.

Fortunately, much more can be said for Lemon’s dancers. In the evening’s first live dance section, Lemon’s dancers took the stage for an exercise in physical exhaustion. It began with five dancers expressing individual fervor; each of the men and women cultivated unique movement vocabulary that contributed to the group’s enduring frenetic energy. A sense of abandon was evident from the start, giving the choreography an overall unpredictable nature. At times, a clear structure rang through the ever-changing physical landscape, uniting the dancers in a set formation or using the dancers’ voices and breath to indicate a dynamic shift. Unified squat-to-plank jumps marked a culmination of physicality and the end of Lemon’s fatigue experiment… for the dancers.

Audience members were challenged to surpass their own mental fatigue in the three following studies of movement minimalism. In the first study, a woman backed up, crying, for a prolonged period; meanwhile Lemon lost at least six audience members. The subsequent animal parade projection put the audience in an absurd situation, confronting their preconceptions and expectations in the most pedantic of ways. Lemon and a female dancer performed a duet in the evening’s final section, recalling a scene from the earlier film. The pair’s gently placed, calculated movements flourished in the theatre’s already quieting energy. “Yes. Oh yes. Whoa. Yes,” Lemon said in his calm narrative voice, finding relief at the end of the performance.

From its murmurs and its sleepy disengagement, it was obvious that the audience was feeling the same thing.

(For another view of “How Can You Stay…” click on http://Culturevulture.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=353:ralph-lemon-how-can-you-stay-sf&catid=4:dance&Itemid=4

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