(American, born 1952)
Though Untitled is a duet, its two dancers rarely touch, make eye contact, or even acknowledge each other’s presence. Performing to the sounds of bells, chimes, and birdsong playing on tape recorders that they themselves turn on and off, as well as to their own weeping and sighing, they dance separately within the confines of a small area. Occasionally, they collide. These collisions appear emotionally fraught, expressed through confused and frenzied grappling as their interlocked bodies spin and fall to the ground, where they tumble until separating once again.
Untitled is the creation of Ralph Lemon, a choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, writer, and visual artist celebrated for his boldly experimental, cross-disciplinary work. He completed the piece in 2008, and was commissioned to present it at The Museum of Modern Art in 2011. The artist choreographed it for himself and his longtime collaborator, Okwui Okpokwasili, who describes the piece as being about “mourning” and “grace.”1 The choreography is designed to push the performers’ bodies and minds past their limits, so that they reach a raw, heightened physical and emotional state. According to Lemon, “it’s a work that explores a variety of physical and emotional landscapes.”2
Like many of Lemon’s works, Untitled was inspired by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s science fiction film, Solaris (1972). At the film’s center is a tragic love story between a psychologist and his deceased wife, who appears to him as a haunting apparition. “We were trying to…physicalize or translate the love story in Tarkovsky’s Solaris,” Lemon has explained. “We watched the film and culled certain key words [and] phrases from it that we then re-mapped into movement.”3 Although the piece is based on the relationship between a man and woman, and is performed by a male and female dancer, for Lemon, it is meant to reflect a less tangible connection: that of ourselves to our memories. He imagines the dancers in Untitled as apparitions that stand in as representations of the memories, emotions, desires, and traumas of our innermost selves.
A term describing moving-image artworks recorded onto magnetic tape or digital formats, or generated using other mechanisms such as image-processing tools, and available for immediate playback.
A person who directs or produces movies.
1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).
The art of creating and arranging dances or ballets; a work created by this art. A person who creates choreography is called a choreographer.
The visual portrayal of someone or something.
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
To request, or the request for, the production of a work of art.
No Hierarchy: Dance and Beyond
Though Ralph Lemon could have remained focused on dance and enjoyed a successful career, he chose to continue experimenting and pushing boundaries. In 1995, he dissolved his decade-old, internationally acclaimed dance company in order to expand his work into video and filmmaking, installation, writing, and various multifaceted collaborative projects. “I do a number of things, and they all are interrelated. There’s no hierarchy,” he has said about his encompassing approach to art making. “They all feel quite organic and there’s fluidity to them. It’s all kind of the same thing. It’s a practice: a need to imagine and to give some kind of form to that.”4
VIDEO: Watch moments from Ralph Lemon’s performance of Untitled at MoMA, and hear from him and his longtime collaborator, Okwui Okpokwasili