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Jasmin Vardimon Company – Medusa at Sadler’s Wells

Jasmin Vardimon Company: Medusa- Photographer Tristram Kenton
Jasmin Vardimon Company: Medusa- Photographer Tristram Kenton

The first time I was ever introduced to Medusa was in a school assembly, where all pupils were taken to task just because one child said, in the school playground, that someone else, who I shall only refer to as Pupil X, ‘looked like Medusa’, and said Pupil X burst into tears as a result. Decades later, I still don’t quite understand the concept of an anti-bullying initiative involving the deputy head yelling at everyone, but in any event, a considerable number of pupils’ initial reaction at the time was something along the lines of, “Who or what is Medusa?”

In this modern interpretation from the Jasmin Vardimon Company, it appears to me that some background information about Medusa would be useful to grasp some of the concepts presented. For instance, the treatment of women, through contemporary lenses at least, is pointless at best and not only misogynistic but probably downright illegal at worst, but a general overview of how women were portrayed in ancient Greek mythology – which mirrored (if I may use that word with regards to Medusa) the patriarchal society of the day – makes one think twice about some of the events portrayed on stage.

But it is still uncomfortable viewing at times. At one point, women appear to be brushed off the stage with a large broom. Early on in proceedings, a number of women are covered in plastic sheeting from which they must escape to prevent being suffocated. Elsewhere, a woman is portrayed as a ‘shadow’, always on the floor, and only able to exist at all because of the man. Even when the ladies are finally allowed a moment to shine and demonstrate some joyful dancing, it is curtailed by a man who wishes to pontificate on a matter of apparent importance. The interruptions he gets as the women continue to move around are most welcome – in the end, dancing and movement is what should happen in a show at a dance venue, and this production, thankfully, has them in spades.

The accompanying music ranges from the reflective to the exuberant, and some of it consists of chart music. I rather liked the scene when a man appears with a metal bin on his head – every time he opened his mouth to speak rubbish came out, until much of the stage was covered in litter. The word ‘politician’ came to mind. But if the narrative is harrowing, the choreography is stunning, sometimes calling for split-second accuracy, a challenge risen to by the company very well indeed.

This isn’t, as you will have gathered, a straightforward retelling of the Greek myth. What this production suggests is that the spirit of Medusa lives on in the world today – a certain kind of resilience that can survive the most trying circumstances. To be a kind of ‘Medusa’, then, one must be in possession of strength. I wonder what Pupil X would make of that. A challenging performance with plenty of food for thought.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Created in Sitges near Barcelona, in partnership with The Institute of The Arts Barcelona, Medusa revisits and re-explores themes that have been a feature of much of Vardimon’s work over the last two decades.

Raising questions about gender and power, the place of women in literature and mythology, the objectification of the female form and the long-term future of our environment, Vardimon takes the legend of Medusa as her starting point. Quite clearly these are themes that have over the last year been very much in the news and correspond to the current ‘MeToo’ post-Weinstein discourse.

The popular perception of Medusa is of a monster hunted down by Perseus, a gorgon with snakes for hair who could turn a man to stone with a single look at her hideous countenance. And yet, as you know that only tells part of the story. There is much that goes before which is now seldom told- a story in which she is far more victim than villain. In illustrating this lesser-known part of he myth, showing how the once beautiful young virgin became a gorgon as a punishment by Athena for being raped in her temple by Poseidon, Vardimon raises some enduring yet timely questions of what it is to be a woman in a male-dominated society, how powerful women are often demonised and the process of degrading women to the status of mere object.

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