What the devil is someone supposed to do with Lolita, Vladamir Nabokov’s 1955 novel about a middle-aged man’s obsession with an underage girl? Junk Ensemble’s excellent dance-theatre production finds remarkable pith in referring to its victim, whose nickname has since inspired a lot of pornography, by her true name.
For Dolores to be given new life, choreographers Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy need to deal with Nabokov’s problematic protagonist. Predatory, loquacious and convincing, Humbert Humbert (Mikel Murfi) traps his step-daughter in a poisonous relationship before fleeing across the country with her. But here, when an older woman embodying Dolores’s escape and vengeance (Amanda Coogan) stuffs his mouth with a peach, it opens up new possibilities. Miraculously, the narrator can be muted.
That could make for a dance where the resistance of the narrative’s usual demands is more interesting than the movement. But Dolores is seen in rich complexity, embodied by three dancers. If Coogan channels her sense of revenge, Julie Koenig is given her youthful aspirations, while Deirdre Griffin shows her vulnerability and trauma.
Discovery is everywhere in this promenade production. Guided by girls’ batons, we’re ushered between tattered house rooms, a garden, and a stark roadside – all transformed by Valerie Reid’s painstaking design. Just as inventive, the piano and clarinet of Denis Clohessy’s sublime music whimpers until it warbles with unease. It all suggests a rivetingly dark dance.
It’s rare for Junk Ensemble, whose choreography often resembles combat, to create such intimate and sparing solos. We see Koenig spin desperately in a child’s bedroom, or feel Coogan’s hand reach out for us while she breaths inky water. Childhood dreams have been sadly dashed and replaced by something toxic.
Instead of going along with his fantasies, Murfi’s superb Humbert Humbert, crippled with paranoia, is allowed to give an extra performance: as corrupt playwright Quilty, who takes Dolores away. Such freighted movement suggests male torment as opposed to desire, in a production that suspends the novel’s risqué gestures. An unflinching duet with Griffin’s formidable Dolores, where there are headlocks and bodies dragged along the ground, is most evocative of a stirring power struggle.
Yet, in more sombre moments, this thrilling and artful reprove of Lolita offers a mournful look at trauma. A passage read aloud describes Dolores being slapped, spurring Koenig and Griffin to entangle and choke each other as if agonising with self-blame and destruction. But the production manages to find encouragement in its final moments, in a dance of splendour and baton-twirling, leaving us feeling lighter.
Dolores is at Dublin Dance Festival until May 13th. For more details, click here.