Apollo Magazine

James Joyce via the medium of contemporary dance

The Irish writer’s surprising dance-world connections, from a duet in a silent film to Michael Flatley’s Riverdance

Photo of James Joyce (left): Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

It’s what you’ve been waiting for: a ‘psychedelic art-dance work’ inspired by James Joyce’s nigh-on impenetrable final novel, Finnegans Wake, is about to be staged in London. Yes, for one night only, on 16 May, the book that Vladimir Nabokov once described as ‘a cold pudding’ is to be interpreted through the medium of modern dance.

Jinyeob Cha and Vakki’s Riverrun takes its title from the first word of the Wake (‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs’). But, Rakewell wonders, might the whole venture not also allude to that other triumph of contemporary capering, Michael Flatley’s Riverdance?

After all, Michael Flatley is something of a Joyce aficionado. At Sotheby’s in 2004, he acquired a medal that the Irish writer had won in a singing competition in 1904; he also owns several first editions of Ulysses, including one signed by Joyce and Henri Matisse.

Then there is Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, herself a professional dancer, who performed in the 1920s with the dance group Les Six de Rythme et Couleur, and in 1928 danced a duet with a toy soldier in Jean Renoir’s short film The Little Match Girl. ‘All wheel whirl waltz twirl’, as Joyce might have had it!

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