Áine Stapleton has pushed the boundaries of dance more than once. She took time out from preparations for a new show to share the things that inspire her with Murmur.
When did dance become the medium for you?
When I was seven, my best friend’s family owned the local chipper. She was going to modern dance classes and invited me along, which helped to keep me active alongside my love of chips!
My teacher advised me to take up ballet although I never really enjoyed it. It felt too regimented, and I remember feeling ridiculous having to curtsy to examiners!
When I was 14, I trained in contemporary dance with Dublin Youth Dance Company and soon after I left secondary school for my transition year and attended the dance course at Inchicore College Dublin in order to train full time. We danced technique class everyday and I also began to focus on creating my own choreography. That same year my mother died.
Looking back, dance was a great means of expression and release, and since then I have become increasingly interested in creating work from personal story. I returned to secondary school for the Leaving Certificate and then moved to London in 2001 where I completed a degree in Dance Studies at the University of Surrey, Roehampton.
Had you been interested in any other means of expression?
I loved drawing and painting up until the Leaving Certificate, but then focused specifically on dance as a career. I also attended gymnastics as a young child, which landed me the chance to leap frog the length of Wicklow main street for the St. Patrick’s parade, a much sought-after role ha. Over the last few years I’ve started to experiment with music and currently play in an electronica band called Everything Shook.
Do you use the same process to devise each new work?
My process has started to vary more, for example, this year I’m creating an hour-long film Medicated Milk about Lucia Joyce which doesn’t necessarily feature a lot of dancing, but requires similar skills such as devising imagery, creating a specific tone, structuring the work, choosing a sound score and text.
One of my main inspirations is an American choreographer called Deborah Hay who has endless insight about the body, performance and choreography.
Hay also uses score writing as a choreographic tool which is how I work with Fitzgerald & Stapleton – a dance theatre company I run with dance artist Emma Fitzgerald. The text in these scores guides the dancer for the duration of the performance and has instruction for movement, spoken word and song in a similar way that a script would for a theatre production.
When did you first develop this approach?
I first workshopped with Hay in Dublin in 2006 and commissioned a solo called The Runner from her in 2007. Emma and I formed Fitzgerald & Stapleton in 2008 and have worked in this way since then.
What affect do you wish to have on the audience?
I want people that attend my shows to get whatever they get from it. There is rarely an obvious narrative, but this is an attempt to allow each individual viewer the space to engage their own imaginations so that the work can speak for them also.
Do you think your work can have a separate life when discussed with someone who didn’t attend the performance?
Yes, the motivations behind the work seem clear to me so I feel I can discuss them on their own terms, but It’s very different from experiencing the live performance. It also has a separate life through the choreographic scores which are published online and in hard copy.
Does ordinary-lived experience greatly influence your dance?
Yes, I create most of my work from my own life experiences as a woman growing up in Ireland. It can be hard to expose so much personal detail but it always feel like worthwhile material. I really appreciate being able to share these stories with an audience and to have their presence direct them also during live performance.
How does the experience of being a dancer effect your day to day life?
I think performing, performing naked which I have done for many years now, and exposing a lot of personal history within the work can be very healing. Sometimes when I dance I feel like I’ve just landed back in my body, and that awareness of being present has had huge positive effects on my everyday life. On the other hand it can also leave me feeling over exposed and that’s something which can create feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Living in a country where women are so often sexually objectified and undervalued, dance is my means to tackle these perceptions and create some social change.
You can see more of Áine’s work on her blog