How does a person become split into many parts? How does the body become broken apart? Junk Ensemble's latest production is an exploration of the site of trauma that asks these questions of Nabokov’s classic Lolita.
Lolita is a book. It is also two films, one directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1962 and the other by Adrian Lyne in 1997. The narrative splits in the hand of each interpreter; Kubrick leans into the unsettling comedic vaudeville of Sellars’ performance as the ‘creepy genius’ Clare Quilty, where Lyne opens with strings and submits fully to the romantic charm of Jeremy Irons. The thing all three have in common is perspective in the narration. There is one story told - albeit unreliably - and that is of a confusing love that torments the narrator and drives him to murder. His confusing love for this child. His story. Nabokov offers a whisper of the child's identity as it is fractured by this perspective by naming the character twice. Her name is Dolores Haze. She becomes ‘Lolita’ in the mind of the narrator as he fantasises about her.
So where do twins Jessica and Megan Kennedy lead us? Back to Dolores. Spinning the frame to hold her story in all its broken pieces, weaving together fragments and hints, this promenade installation explodes the body in more than one way. Firstly, we, the audience, break apart. Split in two - much like the character- we travel through segmented spaces in The Chocolate Factory as divided observers occasionally reconnecting as a whole, but having fundamentally different experiences of the story. In an opening dance, the three Dolores's appear in unison. Three bodiless dresses that dance eerily on the legs of the performers. As they dress we see the common gesture, the shared shape, and begin to understand their function in the space; these three women are one woman. Each of them will tell us their version of the narrative, each representing a facet of the experience.
The aesthetic is a tasty marriage of decaying opulence and kitsch americana. Sitting in the bare concrete frame of the factory adds another flavour and - much like the roaming site-specific work of Punchdrunk - there are details everywhere that you want to stop and absorb. The choreography is defined by who and where each moment is occurring. In the case of Dolores’ bedroom, the first performance is an unwieldy, too-large-for-the-space-but-on-purpose flinging and spinning accompanied by a hesitant and slightly inaudible monologue. The next is a brutal duet between Amanda Coogan and Mikel Murfi that opens up motifs we see reversed in a temporal jump to the past later on; she presses him into submission, breaking him with a determined and overpowering physicality. We see him suffer and we see her create it. She is the third Dolores, “full of fire and revenge”, who also delivers one of the most visceral and terrifying images of abuse I’ve seen staged - a woman choking on poison, or bile, or maybe even her own anger.
There is less distinction for me in the other versions of Dolores but that, too, becomes interesting in duet. The warring sides of the same person are as tragic and defiant as the image will allow. Here, the Kennedys show us a rigour in their exploration that removes Humbert or Quilty from the picture entirely. In these moments we are seeing Dolores alone with herself, struggling, beating, claiming and suffocating.
It’s safe to say that all of the comedy in Kubrick’s Quilty or the romance in Lyne’s Humbert is drained from this re-telling. In a central duologue, which Murfi splits between two sides of his own performance, we see a manic and flustered Quilty/Humbert hybrid quoting lines from novel and movie in an avalanche of words. Sometimes hitting a comedic note, this is the only moment in the piece that affords the audience a moment of levity in an incredibly dark and psychically affecting work. I wonder if there might have been space for Dolores beyond the abuse that could have interjected a little more, but I also respect the completeness of the intention.
This is a show about abuse but it doesn’t remain at the doorstep. We are invited into the experience, to wander around and see how the trauma of violation, be it physical or psychological, sets a person at war with their abuser, themselves and the world around them.
Maeve for DRAFF
Dolores by junk ensemble ran at The Chocolate Factory, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Dance Festival from the 8th - 13th May 2018.