I FEEL LIKE I’VE NEEDED TO BE REMINDED that work can be guttedly personal and really quite messy, and that the sheer truth and humility transmitted in that choice of representation can make a piece very strong.
I was inspired by Ralph Lemon’s How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere? and how he transparently built a piece about building a piece in the midst of tragedy. I was moved by the crutches, roadblocks, and failures he disclosed, and the work reaffirmed my belief that our processes as artists are truly interesting, and if told bravely and creatively, are enough to base work on. Seeing Lemon’s work made me start to plot and ponder about the ways that I can further employ unfettered personal narratives in my own work.
I mean, I just don’t know if I’m ever going to be done with my treatment of this work, as I really can’t remember seeing a more complicated piece in a long, long time. I could write pages about all the nooks and crannies of that complication, but some highlights/questions/moments were these things:
RACE/GRIEF—As a black artist, how did he employ and discard tropes of race, racialized bodies, and narratives of race and tragedy to contain what ultimately felt like a very small, particular, and personal grief cycle? Was the piece really at all about race? If it was, then why no treatment of his interracial relationship with a Japanese woman? Are racial themes a cultural hook Lemon uses to wade through identity issues? Are they a sure-fire trigger that set off a compulsory feel and theme of tragedy in the work?
And I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the plain phenomena of an audience full of mostly-white art-goers in a proscenium space like YBCA, forging a relationship to this work that asked them—either out of obligation or out of being truly compelled—to simply stick with this wild and forward work that so radically experiments with time, focus, and duration, and simply Watch. Black. Bodies. Keep watching the black bodies, because that’s what we’re intended to do here. That was huge for me.
DANCE—Choreographically, Lemon referred often to a goal of investigating the possibility of “non-form” with the quintet. This was so interesting to me because he embarked on this exploration with such highly trained dancers who literally have technique pumping through their veins. I was struck by how much I felt like this investigation was a failure from the start because of the inevitability of form in these particular bodies, and yet I was also inundated with questions about how such a careful and complicated experiment could ever take place with any bodies but these bodies. As a choreographer who is equally interested in the physicalities of technically trained dancers and alternatively trained dancers, this was a really practical and fundamental thing for me to think about.
ANIMALS—It’s funny, when I first viewed the section of the work where the dog walks out, I was completely wrapped up in the Brer Rabbit references implicit in the printed material in the program, that then became complicated by the almost-racial tones of the earlier section of work. My colleague and friend Laura Arrington loved the “animal part” and I couldn’t quite extract from her why, (probably because Laura is passionate). Later, I talked with friend and fellow artist, Sara Kraft, who kind of threw her head back and took a deep sigh. She might have even teared up. She said something like, “You know when you are just so desperately utterly gutted and you have nothing? Those are the times when all you can really do is just look at an animal. Watch an animal. Stare at an animal and how simple it is and how simply it relates.” And then I got it. I got it hard. And I loved it too…just like Laura.
In conclusion: thank god for Angela Mattox’s programming and for Ralph Lemon’s deep, tightly woven, maniacally dismantled, endlessly difficult, entirely gorgeous work.