Interview : Megan and Jessica Kennedy from Junk Ensemble

Junk Ensemble founders Megan and Jessica Kennedy talk to Déshabillé about their new dance recital production Dolores, based on Nabokov's Lolita, a reimaging of the girl's story which will be staged at the Dublin Dance Festival this May.

Q. Describe Junk Ensemble?

A. Megan...We started the company in 2004. We both had trained in different places abroad, then we came back to Dublin at the same time. By chance, we were both interested in working towards a physical theatre of dance. We were using our practise of dance to bring a theatrical, very visual element to it, which worked very well with Russian companies that we had just seen in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So we started making duet work, smaller work with the two of us performing in them and that had to do with memory and identity and the fact that we are identical twins, the psychological aspect.

Jessica...We make work that has to do with the human condition, that has emotionality attached to it. We use text and music and songs. The movement comes from trying to convey the essence of the human condition or the struggle.

Q. What made you decide to do a reimaging of Lolita?

A. Jessica...We both had a long standing love of the novel. I read it when I was seventeen, Megan read it when she was nineteen. We'd both read a lot of Nabokov's work, I'd studied Russian Literature at university. So there's that fascination with that. When we came to it again, rereading it we realised that, from getting older, more just growing up and with our experience, we were reading it very differently. The abuse and the trauma throughout the novel on our first reading was quite disguised, we were seduced by language, seduced by the narrarator, Now we can see the tragedy of the young girl, whose real name was Dolores. And what we're really interested in is exploring Dolores' story. We have three females in the piece and one male - Mikel Murfi. Amanda Coogan is a performance artist and two dance artists, two musicians.

Q. So, the three aspects to the Dolores character you show, the child, the girl enamoured by the American Dream and then the wronged woman who is playing those roles?

A. Megan...They're interchangeable, working with the inner and outer Dolores, the Dolores that could have lived. Amanda Coogan is enbodying that Dolores, if she had lived in the story. What would she say, what would she do to Humbert Humbert for instance.
We're playing with that idea. We're also taking it outside of the novel, so it's our own fiction.

Q. Are you relating it to the #MeToo movement?

A. Jessica...I think everything comes into it, we're not relating specifically to it, but everything comes into it, as we're living and working women in 2018. Our background and contemporary events, like the Eighth Amendment Referendum, all of this is how we're living and surviving as women. It feeds into this experience of Dolores. We began working on this two years ago before these events happened, but it was still in the air. I think reading Lolita has more resonance reading it in 2018, perhaps even than 1960. In terms of abuse there's nothing new there, but now we're just waking up a little bit, we're recognising things a little bit earlier, but it's still not early enough. In terms of Lolita it's what is being done to her, when all she is, is a little girl who's been severely traumatised. She's a very ordinary little girl.

Q. One of the last sentences in that book about how she was seventeen years of age and looked like an old woman, she'd had the life taken out of her, that always stayed with me.

A. Megan...Yeah, and that's the thing she doesnt have a childhood. From a very young age, she's neglected by her mother, she doesnt have a father and then her step father comes in and entirely takes advantage of the situation. So she had to grow up at an incredibly fast rate. Even though she's referenced as a girl child, in fact she became an adult as soon as Humbert Humbert came into her life, and she carried that trauma into her very early death at seventeen where she was pregnant and barefoot and in poverty.

Jessica... It really comes down to trauma, which leads to, I eouldnt say inevitable death, but leads to a demise. So, then we think about...What would her story be now? What if she lived, what would she say? There's a notion of retribution for what happens to Dolores and what happens to her. We all have a Dolores inside us, that's why we wanted a number of women playing, or embodying her. We're trying to show she's just a normal girl, not someone who's imagined or to be put on a pedestal.

Q. Where else will Dolores be staged apart from the dance festival?

A. Megan...We have to find the right site for it, but we definitely would love to tour.

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