Ralph Lemon Named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow

October 5, 2020
Ralph Lemon’s rich history of art-making has largely eluded strict labels. He’s not just a choreographer or a performer or a writer or a painter or a lecturer. He’s all of those things, and more.
Now, the longtime creator has been given another unofficial title: genius. A 2020 MacArthur Fellow, Lemon is the recipient of a highly coveted MacArthur Foundation grant, often referred to as a “genius” grant. Over five years, Lemon will receive the no-strings-attached award of $625,000 in quarterly installments.

Lemon is being recognized for “generating interdisciplinary modes of artistic expression for stories, emotions, memories, and identities that traditional media do not accommodate.” His projects do not neatly fit inside the concert-dance box. Instead, he’s turned away from that model completely ever since he disbanded his lauded touring company in 1995 and formed Cross Performance, shifting his focus to more atypical, long-ranging, research-based works.

For example, his Geography Trilogy lasted nine years and involved extensive work in Africa, Asia and the American South, culling dancers and musicians from local communities. Lemon’s work has dealt with explorations of the Civil Rights Movement, race and identity.

At 68, Lemon is the oldest recipient in the 2020 cohort, which includes 20 additional artists, intellectuals and professionals from a range of fields. This year’s class includes two other performing artists: singer and composer Cécile McLorin Salvant and playwright Larissa FastHorse.

Lemon joins an illustrious group of previous dance-world winners, such as Kyle Abraham, Okwui Okpokwasili, Michelle Dorrance, Alexei Ratmansky, Trisha Brown, Liz Lerman and Twyla Tharp.