Self-described “conceptualist” Ralph Lemon brought his newest art project to Duke University’s Reynolds Theater for a two-night run, where he baffled and charmed a small, lucky audience with his uncategorizable multi-technique, multi-media project, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? This incredibly brainy art, brought to us by Duke Performances, has more heart than anything I’ve seen for a long time. It is amazingly crafted, takes place at a certain time in a certain space, and you have to buy a ticket…, but it is not a product. The audience experiences the distilled results of deep questioning, minute observation, and grand epistemological voyaging in a sort of visual-kinetic poem with words, a koan that induces enlightenment’s fireflies to gather at the edge of one’s vision.

“I’m less interested in the final project of a thing, but more in the conversation. Seeing the bits and pieces. I love that. I think what’s so great about new media is its unfinishedness. The becoming part of it. It’s so brilliantly un-becoming all the time, and when it becomes it’s less interesting.” – Ralph Lemon (

That quote sums it up as well as anything I can say. How Can You Stay examines formlessness with a form so sophisticated it can barely be discerned, yet you feel its spiral structure moving within you as you surrender to the mystery. The piece comprises three sections. In the first Lemon sits very still downstage, reading into a microphone from a script that accompanies a strange, layered film. Some readers may recall very negative things I’ve previously written about dancers with microphones. Lemon is excepted from my wrath. I wanted him never to stop speaking, I wanted his beautiful voice to go on and on, telling and asking and explaining and sorrowing and confessing and marveling. There was no other world while he was speaking, no audience, no proscenium, just the flow of image and sound. When he left the stage, I felt so bereft that I cried.

The second section pushes viewers past the edge of comfort or easy enjoyment with its kinetic exploration of ecstasy. The still images on this site, which also has a brief bio and good links, will give you some idea. It goes on for a long time, with plenty of movement repetition, but virtually no patterning. The quality of the movement is extraordinarily vital, and the dance could hardly have less form, in any sense that that word is traditionally used in dance. After the ecstasy, the agony. A woman cries, sobs, offstage and then onstage, her back to us. It was hard to take, worse when you couldn’t see her. I wanted to rush and find her, comfort her, but for some things there is no comfort.

At the end, Lemon returns. With his shirt and pants, he wears one pale yellow sock. Next to his bare brown foot firmly on the floor, the sock foot appears to rise. Then he strips off the sock, and the foot does rise. Like the parade of holographic animals that had come through earlier only to vanish in poofs of light, the foot and sock examine illusion and reality, bodies and their ghosts, and the artist balances between, poised on the mystic conundrum.

This project is the kind of thing that makes one value The University even more. As arrogant and irritating as any one university may be in daily life, not many other places offer haven to such refined peculiarity, such idiosyncratic brilliance. In the Triangle, we are blessed with Duke’s genius impresario Aaron Greenwald, who brings rare creatures like Lemon and his megawatt collaborating dancers, fits them into the wider context of academic arts and humanities, and then stands back, letting the art act like a kind of yeast to raise bigger thoughts and bigger hearts.

How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? repeats Sat. Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. See our calendar for details.