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Ralph Lemon is the dance world's ultimate contrarian. He never repeats himself, never does things the easy way, never avoids controversy. When he was commissioned in 1991 to make a dance about the African-American experience, he created a solo in which he entered wearing a mask with huge, rubbery lips and mashed a banana into it. In Come Home Charley Patton--the third part of his "Geography" trilogy and the piece his pickup company is performing here--he again addresses the subject of race, but in a far gentler way. Traveling to Africa and Haiti for the first part of the trilogy, Africa/Race, and to Asia for the second, Tree, he chose to visit what he calls the "iconic" southern states of Mississippi and Alabama for the final installment. The many layers of the piece that resulted--recorded blues and an original sound score, live dance and vintage dance footage, an inventive set with one screen showing videotapes and another a drawing of an oracular talking head--seem to represent Lemon's effort to approach a difficult subject from every possible angle. Though I was unable to preview the entire 90-minute piece, I'm certain it creates a restlessly impressionistic picture: when Lemon recites a story on video, standing in a stream amid tree trunks, the live Lemon onstage questions its validity point by point. But however uncertain the universe of Come Home Charley Patton, its heart is sure to be the dancing, based on the music of legendary bluesmen. Thu-Sat 3/3-3/5, 7:30 PM, Sun 3/6, 3 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, $24. Note: A roundtable is scheduled at the MCA Sat 3/5, 2 PM, free; and there will be talks after the Thursday performance and at 6:30 PM on Saturday, both free for ticket holders.

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