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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2022: Somewhere in the Body

Somewhere in the Body by Áine Stapleton. Image José Antonio Muñoz


Love is blind, and Áine Stapleton is nothing if not wildly in love with all things Lucia Joyce. The dancer daughter of James Joyce, who has become an academic cause célèbre in recent years, Lucia retired before being institutionalised with schizophrenia just as her career might have taken off. There she remained for most of her adult life. Her incarceration raising questions about attitudes towards women's mental health and the Joycean legacy. Did she jump or was she pushed? Was Daddy jealous of her genius? Was he washing his hands of her? Or simply doing his best for his mentally ill daughter? Also, did she oust Nora Barnacle as Joyce's muse, even as muses travel in packs, given that Lucia features in Joyce's swan song, Finnegan's Wake? And what of all the letters her brother burnt? All this, and much more, informs Stapleton's ambitious short film, Somewhere in the Body. A cinematic love letter whose overwhelming passion blinds it to its own failings.

Viewed as a complimentary diptych on a split screen, with contrasting images evoking division, split personalities, and even schizophrenia, the overall effect suggests a first year student assignment shot on a shoestring budget with a low grade, stationary camera that moves maybe once. If camerawork and angles reinforce a stultifying stiffness, it's echoed in the heavy handed choreography. On her day, Stapleton is an impressive choreographer, but movements here are frequently dull. Colin Dunne, looking like a guilty dog nervous of being found out, his body psychosomatically registering its shames, finds freedom only in a brief shaking scene and some hurried incantations. Kathy Vickers, working from a movement palette defined by strain and restraint as much as by searching and bewilderment, crafts images that are rarely memorable. Those likely to resonate due to Ivan Moreno Bonica's costumes. When dancers are not on screen, what look like bland stock photos of sea, streams, smoke and cloudscapes add to the mundanity. Pat Kramer's light sculptures working hard to link the watcher to the screen's compositionally poor offerings.

Somewhere in the Body by Áine Stapleton. Image José Antonio Muñoz

Meanwhile, sections from Finnegan's Wake, heard through headphones, are read aloud over the often insipid images. The effect less Joycean so much as Jabberwocky, too stately and self-serious for its own good. Sounding like celebrated British comedian Stanley Unwin, whose mangled Unwinese played with language in a similar fashion for comic effect in the 1960s. Even so, Joyce's language is by far the strongest element here. Forever fighting a dramatically coercive composition by Remi S. Langseth, sounding like it was scored for a thriller. Whatever mysteries surround Lucia Joyce, Somewhere in the Body makes them neither thriller nor thrilling. Not that Langseth seems to notice, trying too hard to overcompensate.

As dance on film or dance as film, Somewhere in the Body fails to measure up despite committed hard work. It’s not that it's visual and audial ingredients don’t always compliment each other, they often don’t contrast very well either, or stand successfully on their own merit enough of the time. Plainly put, its weak images, creatively and technically, aren’t interesting or imaginative enough. Throughout, Stapleton's scattergun approach, firing visual buckshot rather than aiming with precision, is often wide of her target even when she hits it. Yet when she scores a bullseye, like the haunting corridor scenes, or the hurried incantations, something vital is felt begging for release. Alas, if Joyce buried Lucia in an institution, Stapleton buries her in stale images. Lucia continuing to elude us, obscured by the frame and the framing. Once again an artist's muse.

Somewhere in the Body by Áine Stapleton runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2022 until May 28.

For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Dublin Dance Festival.


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