Geometric dancers: Ralph Lemon’s drawings

In his essay ‘Ralph Lemon’s Counter-Memorials’, Nicholas Burns praises the choreographer’s drawings for their ‘arresting facticity’ and compares them to the figures on ancient Greek geometric vases, in how they:

provide information, as well as the artist’s own perspective on it, inexpressible otherwise. Lemon’s practice of what he calls ’empirical performance formalism’ means that the research isn’t evident in the final work, although that does not mean his process does not exist on a level beneath our notice. The closest literary equivalent would be diary entries that are later published.

On reading this description of Lemon’s drawings, I was curious to see not only how they evoked the geometric vases but also how they demonstrated the process of the choreographer’s work in what Burns will later call ‘the undermachinery of art or the research he has done’.

The only examples of Lemon’s drawings I could find online were those he made in relation to his 2010 three-part work How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? The first part of this work comprises of a film that is shown while Lemon reads from a script. In the film there is a recreation of scenes from Tarkovsky’s Solaris, with a figure in a space-suit.

In the drawings, this same figure is released from the narrative and is set about performing all kinds of activities (jumping, climbing a rope, sitting on and then falling off a wall).

These actions, while showing the character of the first part of the trilogy, seem to preept the frenzied action of the second part ‘Wall/hole’ in which a group of live dancers perform what Lemon has called an ‘ecstasy dance’.

As the frenzy subsides, a single, sobbing woman takes the stage and who then, for the third part of the triptych (‘No Room’), is joined by Lemon for a duet. While the drawings only relate to one of the three sections (and a small part of it at that – much of ‘Sunshine Room’ is devoted to Lemon narrating earlier works and his own life-story, as much as to the Solaris remake), the range of actions of the spaceman figure seems to spread throughout the work as a whole. In the same way, the simple dancing figures on the 7th century geometric vase from Boeotia (above) both embody collective action of the dance, but at the same time betray subtle differences in their relationship to each other (look at how they hold their hands). Beyond his spacemen and how their actions burst out from the ‘Sunshine Room’, I need to see more of Ralph Lemon’s drawings to understand further their function in his highly intricate and expansive practice.

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