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To the left Áine sits on the floor or a dance studio. To the right a large audience is seated facing her.

Áine Stapleton


Áine Stapleton is a dance and film artist currently based in Spain. Áine received an Arts and Disability Connect New Work award in 2017.

Tell us about your art.
I’m a choreographer and filmmaker. I create experimental dance productions for stage and screen. My dance and film work has a particular focus on biography and the effects of trauma.

Where are you based?
I’m currently based between Ireland and Spain but I travel a lot and work consistently in partnership with international artists and organisations in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, UK, US and Italy.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m creating a choreographed installation with a working title Somewhere in the Body, inspired by Lucia Joyce (daughter of Irish writer James Joyce). Lucia was a talented dancer, artist, and musician. This new work examines Lucia’s time in France during the 1920s, where she trained with various avant-garde choreographers and taught for modern dance pioneer Margaret Morris. Somewhere in the Body is funded by the Arts Council’s Dance Project Award, and produced in partnership with Dance Ireland (DI) and Project Arts Centre (PAC), Dublin. I’ve also begun research on a third film which is part of a series of films inspired by Lucia. This third film is about Lucia’s time in Northern Italy and it is funded by the Arts Council’s Film Bursary.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career path as an artist? How did you get to where you are now?
I studied dance at degree level at the University of Surrey in London until 2004. I returned to Ireland soon after graduating and worked with Myriad Dance in Wexford performing and teaching for a number of years. In 2008, I set up a dance company, Fitzgerald and Stapleton Dance Theatre with Emma Fitzgerald. We worked between Dublin and New York for a number of years, creating live dance productions for stage in partnership with national and international venues. In 2014, I started to develop my own work about Lucia Joyce, and have been creating dance film about her life consistently since then – Medicated Milk (2016), Horrible Creature (2019), and the third film is in development.

If you have been a recipient of an Arts and Disability Connect Award, how has this impacted your career path as an artist?
I was awarded an Arts and Disability Connect New Work Award in 2017, to create a new work about Lucia. I was first introduced to Lucia’s story when I was collaborating on a musical interpretation of Joyce’s major works for Bloomsday in 2014, with Dublin based group Fathers of Western Thought. I was initially interested in Lucia’s story because she was also a modern dancer. When I read about her incarceration by her brother, and the destruction of her writings by her nephew following her death, I became curious about the details of her story, and why she has been written out of the Joyce family history.

Frustrated with the repetitive and lazy accounts of Lucia in the media, I started to collect what was left of her writings from various international archives and visited locations where she spent time throughout Europe. I want to share a more honest account of her life. Lucia was a talented dancer, but was incarcerated by her brother and left in psychiatric institutions for approximately 47 years until her death in 1982.

Based on this research, I created a new live work-in-progress for stage in partnership with Dance Ireland and The James Joyce Centre, Dublin. It was performed as a solo at DanceHouse in Dublin by stunning Dublin based contemporary dancer Sarah Ryan. This live sharing was then further developed into a feature length dance film Horrible Creature which featured three performers, and was filmed at locations in Switzerland where Lucia spent time. The work premiered at the Irish Film Institute (IFI), Dublin in 2019.

The Arts and Disability Connect Award enabled me to work with a performer one on one, for the first time. I had always performed in my own choreographic work prior to this production. It was an invaluable experience to work with Sarah Ryan in this way, developing my choreographic and directing skills by learning from Sarah’s movement responses to my choreographic score directions and through our ongoing dialogue in-studio at DanceHouse. I’m now creating a follow-up dance script about Lucia’s time in Italy.

As part of my Arts and Disability Connect Award, Arts & Disability Ireland also offered PR support from the wonderful publicist Stephanie Dickenson. I received fantastic national press and my work was exposed to a wide new audience. The sharing at Dance Ireland also sold out and to a mostly new audience.

Are there any standout moments in your career as an artist?
I’ve had an ongoing collaborative relationship with Project Arts Centre and Dance Ireland since 2009. The DI and PAC teams are always so generous and supportive. Both organisations have partnered with me on both my solo work and Fitzgerald and Stapleton’s productions, along with other national and international venues. It always feels very special to perform at PAC! My first performance at PAC was Ella Clarke’s Adaptation of a Meeting with Myriad Dance in 2005, and I’m looking forward to premiering my new work there in 2021 after an 8 year gap!

Performing in New York over a number of years with Emma Fitzgerald was an amazing experience. We had the unique opportunity to create and perform work together in historic venues throughout the city supported by the Arts Council. We made and presented our work in partnership with various venues including Chocolate Factory Theater, Abrons Arts Center, and Movement Research at the historic Judson Church. Most recently I showed Medicated Milk at NYU as part of the 9th annual DRFI Conference.

The Irish Film Institute has been super supportive since I started working in film 6 years ago, and it’s always an absolute pleasure to screen work there. I love introducing new audiences to experimental dance and the IFI always attracts an open-minded crowd.

I’ve also been curating dance and wellness workshops in partnership with Dance Ireland and the First Fortnight Festival over the last three years. First Fortnight is an arts festival dedicated to removing stigma around mental health. The workshops attract a really diverse group of participants, many of whom haven’t danced before. It’s been a real highlight for me over the past few years. Watch out for next year’s programme which will be launched this November.

In general I love travelling and working with organisations and collaborators at home and abroad. I am hugely inspired by my always fantastic collaborators, which currently include dance artists Adrienne Truscott and Michelle Boulé, along with designers Ivan Moreno Bonica and Pat Kramer. I feel very grateful, as I’m lucky enough to work with people who I’m a huge fan of! I’m always blown away by the generosity and talent of everyone that I’ve worked with.

Who or what are the most important influences on your art?
Biography, in particular female biography, has influenced most of my work over the years. Until quite recently, my dance work was focused on autobiography and my personal relationships, offering snippets of fragmented texts and movement to voice my stories in non-linear ways.

When working with Lucia’s story, it’s important for me to work with her own words as much as possible. Lucia’s story is still largely unexplored. Her letters, and supposedly a novel, were destroyed by her nephew following her death. Every element in my work about Lucia – costume, sculpture, choreography, music – needs to be formed as much as possible from her experiences. The new work combines a multitude of details ranging from her artistic practice and influences, relationships, books she read, letters she wrote, places she visited, songs she sang, food she ate, dreams she had etc.

In terms of performance, the American choreographer Deborah Hay has been the biggest influence on my practice to date. She has been developing her dance practice for about 50 years already and has published a number of books about her practice including Lamb at the Alter (1994) and Using the Sky (2015). In terms of film, over the last few years I’ve been interested in work by Luca Guadagnino, Jean Luc Godard, and Paolo Sorrentino.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I really love producing my own work. It’s a really inspiring part of the creative process for me – investigating locations and working with collaborators on all the various elements. Horrible Creature was quite tricky logistically and challenging in terms of permissions to film at certain locations – a school, a psychiatric hospital and a monastery. Combined with the choreographic and directing elements, it felt like my biggest project to date. It was challenging but in a really good way, and I gained a lot of new knowledge about choreographing, filmmaking, and producing. I worked with choreographic score writing for Horrible Creature, a technique that was originally inspired by Hay. I created a lengthy script which included spoken word, along with detailed directions for vocalisations and movement that were specific to each location.

My current project is also a challenge because of the obvious pandemic restrictions and I am taking things day by day. It’s a really worrying time and I’m very grateful to organisations like the National Campaign for the Arts.

Who is your favourite artist?
Deborah Hay. I was introduced to Hay through Ella Clarke and John Scott in 2005. I later commissioned Hay’s solo The Runner in Findhorn, Scotland, in 2008. Since then, I’ve attended her masterclasses in France and New York, and they always guide me back to what is important to me.

What do you like to do for fun?
Fun these days is mostly just doing something relaxing, haha – swimming in the sea, having a nice stroll in nature, eating delicious food, and sometimes drinking wine with friends followed by shopping for ridiculous clothes that I will never wear! I also started Flamenco dancing last year which is difficult with these Irish hips, but really interesting and a lot of fun!

Biography
Áine Stapleton works in dance, film, and music. She has a 1st Class Honours Degree in Dance Studies from the University of Surrey, London. She was selected as Associate Artist with Dance Ireland in 2019 and was supported within this role as an artist in residence at NMAC Foundation, Spain.

Áine has been consistently developing work about Lucia Joyce, daughter of the Irish writer James Joyce, since 2014. Her recent film Horrible Creature was described as ‘a stunning visual experience’ by Film Ireland. She is currently creating a choreographed installation working title Somewhere in the Body, also based on Lucia. This work is funded by the Arts Council’s Dance Project Award, in partnership witg Dance Ireland and Project Arts Centre. She was recently awarded an Arts Council Film Bursary to research her third feature film about Lucia’s time in Italy.

She curates dance and well-being events in partnership with organisations including Dance Ireland and First Fortnight Festival. She has been invited to speak about her work at various symposia including – Women, War and Peace at Trinity College Dublin, Lucia Joyce: Perspectives at Trinity College Dublin, Body Stories at University College Cork, and The Book and The Body at University College Dublin.
www.ainestapleton.com

A photograph of the filming of Horrible Creature. A woman dances in front of a cameraman on a jetty. The jetty juts out into a lake that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Filming of Horrible Creature a dance film by Áine Stapleton, 2019. Photo Ticino Film Commission

I really love producing my own work. It’s a really inspiring part of the creative process for me – investigating locations and working with collaborators on all the various elements.

A black and white photograph of Sarah Ryan performing Horrible Creature in a dance studio at DanceHouse.

Sarah Ryan performing Horrible Creature, a work-in-progress showing by Áine Stapleton at DanceHouse, 2018. Photo Ewa Figaszewska

A still from the film Horrible Creature. A woman dances in a large decadent room with white walls and parquet floors. To her right a grand piano stands on a red rug, behind it a large monstera deliciosa plant in a pot. To her left a table with several house plans is being tended by another woman.

A still from Horrible Creature, a dance film by Áine Stapleton, 2019. Photo, Will Humphris

A still from the film Medicated Milk. Underwater we can see a pair of legs stretching down from the surface of the water. The light from above is reflected on the pale skin of the legs. The water is darkest where the legs enter from the surface. This image is upside down.

A still from Medicated Milk, a dance film by Áine Stapleton, made with José Miguel Jiménez, 2016

A still from the film Horrible Creature. A woman with dark shoulder length hair wearing a dark dress and coat dances in a field. The light is soft and pink on the horizon. She is surround by tall crops.

A still from Horrible Creature, a dance film by Áine Stapleton, 2019. Photo, Will Humphris


Artist Biography

Áine Stapleton

Áine Stapleton works in dance, film, and music. She has a 1st Class Honours Degree in Dance Studies from the University of Surrey, London. She was selected as Associate Artist with Dance Ireland in 2019 and was supported within this role as an artist in residence at NMAC Foundation, Spain.

Áine has been consistently developing work about Lucia Joyce, daughter of the Irish writer James Joyce, since 2014. Her recent film Horrible Creature was described as ‘a stunning visual experience’ by Film Ireland. She is currently creating a choreographed installation working title Somewhere in the Body, also based on Lucia. This work is funded by the Arts Council’s Dance Project Award, in partnership witg Dance Ireland and Project Arts Centre. She was recently awarded an Arts Council Film Bursary to research her third feature film about Lucia’s time in Italy.

She curates dance and well-being events in partnership with organisations including Dance Ireland and First Fortnight Festival. She has been invited to speak about her work at various symposia including – Women, War and Peace at Trinity College Dublin, Lucia Joyce: Perspectives at Trinity College Dublin, Body Stories at University College Cork, and The Book and The Body at University College Dublin.
www.ainestapleton.com

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