- Come home Charley Patton by Ralph Lemon, and: Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance by Katherine Profeta
In Come home Charley Patton, Ralph Lemon continues his broad exploration of the process of dance-making he began in Geography: art/race/exile (2000) and Tree: belief/culture/balance (2004). In all three books, Lemon combines his travel notes, documentary materials about dance pieces he was working on, personal correspondence, photographs, and drawings into a broad narrative centered on devising his acclaimed dances of the last two decades: Geography and Tree in the first two volumes, and Come home Charley Patton (and, to some degree, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? ) in the third one. Wesleyan University Press needs to be commended for the care and attention they invested in these books: from the quality of paper, to the number of color pages, to the elegant layout of the text. The latest in the trilogy differs from the previous two books. Unlike the first two installments that documented Lemon’s research trips abroad, this one records his voyage to the American South. These research trips were also pilgrimages: the first to Haiti and Africa engaged with questions of origins (art/race/exile); the second to Asia focused on spirituality (belief/culture/balance); and the third — by necessity — engaged with the history of racial politics in the US. Significantly, in this book he departs from the established pattern of a concise title and three-part subtitle. Lemon writes that he decided to name the dance (and, subsequently, the book) after a blues legend “whose life story isn’t reliable, who sang about ‘going away to a world unknown,’ who had his throat cut and was married eight times, whose music I never danced to,” all of which indicate a call for a return to the place of origin that comes with a realization of its impossibility (196). Not surprisingly, Lemon “lands” the title while on a Bellagio residency at Lake Como in Italy, far away from the ancestral land he had been exploring on his South-bound travels.
Katherine Profeta’s Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance followed Come home Charley Patton in relatively quick succession by book industry standards. [End Page 176] Profeta has worked as a dramaturg with Lemon since his first workshop of Geography at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1996. However, it is important to note that Dramaturgy in Motion is not a companion volume to Lemon’s work of the past two decades, but a rigorous engagement in questions of dance dramaturgy. Profeta received her dramaturgical training at the Yale School of Drama, was a founding member of Elevator Repair Service (one of the most innovative devised theatre groups of the downtown New York scene of the 1990s), and has worked as a dramaturg for some 20 years. This richness of her background comes through in her capacious thinking about dramaturgy’s encounter with dance. With great ease and clarity, she moves from well-rehearsed points about the history of this profession (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Erwin Piscator, Bertolt Brecht, Eric Bentley), to the emergence of dance dramaturgy (Pina Bausch, Raimund Hoghe), to recent expansion of the so-called “new dramaturgy” (Marianne Van Kerkhoven, André Lepecki, Bojana Cvejić). What makes it possible for Profeta to engage the field in such a broad and thorough manner while not slipping into survey mode is her constant engagement with the production dramaturgy of Lemon’s dances.
The most memorable, or at least the most often discussed, moment from the dance Come home Charley Patton is the scene in which Lemon attempts to perform while being sprayed by a powerful jet of water from a fire hose. A black body hosed down by a police water cannon is an iconic image from the civil...