Jasmin Vardimon Company performed their new work “Medusa” at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight, and this new work from Jasmin Vardimon, one of the world’s leading female choreographers, is a more than apt one with which to mark the company’s 20th anniversary as Medusa is one of the most iconic female figures in ancient Greek and Roman mythologies and also a contemporary feminist icon to many women.
The story of Medusa is a bold one for any company (let alone a dance one) to try and bring to life on stage as there is no single defining story to be told, but many different inter-woven myths. The immediate issue arising here is of course, how well do the audience know the legends of Medusa? I ask this question to myself right at the start of the performance here as many people will know the near end of Medusa’s story, her head of snakes, her gaze turning people to stone and of course her decapitation by Perseus when they encountered each other. Depending upon which story you are reading, Medusa is a far more interesting story than just this ending and Jasmin Vardimon is incorporating many different elements of Medusa into this work. That is perhaps where the problem starts because what we are at times left with is a series of stand-alone stories that, for me, are not at times connecting to one another to form the larger epic story.
Medusa is, for me, one of the most tragic stories in mythology (if we use one of the later versions), a beautiful young woman, a temptress, but said by some to be very vain. In this later story, Medusa is raped by the god Poseidon at a temple of Athena, and in an appalling act of victim blaming, Athena curses Medusa for this outrage with a head of snakes and gaze to turn men to stone so that no man will desire, or look upon her again. In another story, her severed head eventually finds its way onto Athena’s shield (given to Athena by Perseus). Jasmin Vardimon has skilfully woven some of these elements into this story and brought them to life with some very innovative choreography, and the return to Medusa being a true child of the seas born to sea deities is a welcome one, and this, coupled with Medusa’s sometimes overlooked role as a protector in some stories, allows the story line to switch between ancient mythology and modern day ecological issues. Clever use of smoking chimneys that can also be classical columns also adds to this dual setting.
There is no one single “Medusa” represented here on stage by one single dancer and although this brings in some intriguing elements to the myth, it does at times make what is happening on stage a little oblique to the viewer. Like the many elements to the Medusa myth, I found myself at times a little bit torn between my feelings on this work as it is at times what can be wonderful about contemporary dance and not so wonderful within a few moments. Jasmin Vardimon has created an at times avant garde work here which audiences will take to or not in equal measures.
Like or dislike the work, it is brought to life with a truly international cast of performers each bringing something unique to this performance.
One aspect that we do explore here in some depth (and with varying degrees of success) is the concept that the very gaze of others upon us defines our conscious existence of our own self, almost “I am looked upon, therefore I exist”. In a world where a person’s existence is often measured in social media “likes”, this is perhaps an area that could have been explored further.
In recent years, Medusa has for some become a symbol of feminist identity, and the roles of women in society, how women are all too often perceived by men often as little more than sexual objects and possessions is also interweaving its way through this performance, and again with varying degrees of success.
There are some well choreographed moments here, the mannequin sequence and the shadow sequence being two of my favourites. There is, however, a strange irony in the opening sequences of the sea being represented by a stage full of polythene sheeting when plastics are one of the modern ecological disasters that we have unleashed upon them.
Medusa was never going to be an easy story to bring to a performance stage, but then, Jasmin Vardimon Company has never taken the easy route to anything over the last 20 years, and it is good to see that nothing is changing.
Review by Tom King