An elderly black man dressed in a spacesuit, which appears to be made from tinfoil, shambles up a silent, deserted road in the lush green...

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PERFORMANCE REVIEW |

An elderly black man dressed in a spacesuit, which appears to be made from tinfoil, shambles up a silent, deserted road in the lush green countryside of Mississippi.

This haunting film image is from Ralph Lemon’s extraordinary multimedia performance piece “How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?” now at On the Boards through Sunday.

Certainly, it’s a surreal image, even comic. But there’s a kind of tenderness and respectfulness about it also, a mystical bonding of cerebral artiness and humane folksiness.

The same can be said for the totality of Lemon’s fascinating, moving, sometimes trying amalgam of film, live dance and spoken word.

The run marks Lemon’s long-overdue Seattle debut. And the unusual textures, vivid dancing and personal candor in the piece are a bracing intro to Lemon’s searching artistry.

The 90-minute “How Can You Stay” is, on one level, a tug of war between two aspects of that artistry — a postmodern formalist aesthetic, and a more open-ended, more visceral approach. The show opens with Lemon seated onstage, reading from a text that humorously, probingly, sometimes opaquely reflects on his art. He also talks of his deep connection with his “teacher,” a former sharecropper in Mississippi named Walter Carter, who died recently at 102. Lemon also discusses the profound loss of his life partner, dancer Asako Takami, to cancer.

Meanwhile, a projected film shows weird and resonant re-enactments of scenes from Andrei Sarkovsky’s existential sci-fi movie “Solaris.” Hence, the incongruous glimpses of Carter in a spacesuit — and a scene of love expressed beyond death, sweetly, affectionately and wordlessly re-created by Carter and his wife, who are a soulful link to a century of African-American history.

Is Lemon making fun of a befuddled old man? Not at all. He’s making a connection between the power of art, and the beauty and honesty of unmediated life.

“How Can You Stay” continues with a typhoon of a dance segment, in which the dancers flail, tumble, wrestle, run in circles and fling themselves around to the point of near collapse.

It’s ecstatic and exhausting, a raw frenzy of freedom and grief. And it’s an amazing feat for the valorous dancers, and a 20-minute endurance test for the audience.

Lemon clearly wants to make us uncomfortable, to push us beyond the spectator comfort zone into an altered consciousness, much like the aim of Sufi dervish dancing.

After that furious movement, one is indeed receptive to the contemplative film animation that follows. It depicts a gathering of animals, assembling under a starry sky.

The ending chapter is a solo dance by Lemon (which briefly becomes a duet, with the stunning mover Okwui Okpokwasili. Lemon’s slow turns, his centered and open gestures, exude tranquillity and resignation after a ruinous storm has blown over.

Here, and throughout, sentimentality is avoided. “How Can You Stay” takes you somewhere meaningful, but not to the usual destination.