"A lot of people remember Medusa as a monster killed by Persius, but actually they don’t remember what made her become that monster…” Jasmin Vardimon
This is a highly-conceptual work full of remarkably innovative movement and narrative; it’s a Avant modern dance gig at Sadlers Wells and as such, a bit of an “away game” for me but I do at least have familiarity with the music which includes not only Sonny Bono, Handel and Grieg but also Ben Frost, Aphex Twin, Pharmakon, Mogwai and the mighty Silver Mount Zion who I've seen live many times.
This impressively eclectic range is used to accompany a retelling of the story of Medusa, the jellyfish as well as the creature from Greek legend in a “story” that touches on the relationship not only between men and women but people and power.
More than that, there are so many themes interwoven in the narrative that it is impossible to not relate – pollution, male violence, women’s role in society, and the politics of now. There also so much deft and unusual choreography that you are immersed through concern for the performers’ safety as much as in wonder at the powerful precision with which they work.
One dancer waves a green lasso over her head and as it approaches each member of the company they have to fall away and push themselves across the stage as it compelled by a mystical blast. Then they must find they feet ready to repeat this move over and over again, with split seconds to spare… it is – appropriately enough – transfixing and one of the most impressive moments of human movement I’ve seen on stage.
The story opens as a lone dancer arises from huge folds of transparent plastic on the Sadlers Wells’ stage, she (Olga Clavel Gimeno – a sinuous presence throughout with a background in gymnastics before dance) clears paths through the plastic – the sea, the folds of jellyfish flesh, something more ectoplasmic? Then shapes shoot out from the central platform – is this a birthing? Then Olga is suddenly lifted up on the platform by a single male dancer – a stunning moment of strength and stage craft – my money’s on hunky Kieran Shannon as the lift in this instance.
The story is more thematic in the early stages, and characters start to emerge from the rest of the company notably Joshua Smith who, surprisingly, addresses the audience twice, the second time to try and explain – or should that be man-splain – Jean Paul Sartre’s text Being and Nothingness. This contends that it is the gaze of others upon ourselves that makes us realise that we exist as objects for others… the gaze of the Gorgon/Medusa.
There is also a quite remarkable sequence in which a man – Joshua - walks with his female shadow (I’m not sure who the dancer was – Silke Muys perhaps, apologies if I got the wrong one!), who, incredible is able to keep pace with his movement whilst rolling and pushing herself on the floor. She tries to get up at one point: to be on his level, but he eventually succeeds in knocking her down.
There’s also violence as the muscular Mr Shannon – whose long hair makes him look a little Norse – out-matches poor Joshua Smith. These physical struggles are so well worked and, as you can see from the picture of this interaction, require inch perfect rehearsal and athleticism.
Medusa is raped by Poseidon in the Temple of Athena who then, rather unreasonably, punishes the woman. Similarly mistreated are the invertebrate Medusas – the jellyfish – who after 650 million years are now been suffocated by plastic and man-made pollution… It’s not hard to spot who the real villain is here but there’s hope as even at the end, the forces of good – Athena (Patricia Hastewell Puig) resist.
In the cerebral melange of messages Vardimon has mixed together there is the philosophical question of “what to do” in a world of commodified everything… we need to transform ourselves and not get submerged and strangled in the everyday battles of ego and commerce. We need to work together as well as the Vardimon company and to clear the decks of the philosophical pollution as well as the all choking expansion of plastic.
The Guardian thought there was too much for one show but I have to say that it worked exceptionally well for me; after all isn’t there already “too much”? Away from the madness outside and in the comfortable seats, this was a chance to be slapped around the head and like it! Which, broadly speaking, is the purpose of art is it not.
I must mention the rest of the line up as they were all outstanding: Jasmine Orr, Andre Rebelo and the flame-haired Lucija Bozievic. Dance of this nature must be built up from the ground with fewer conventional steps; the mix of tumbling and even gymnastics must also take a long time to perfect: it was incredibly disciplined! Still Jasmin Vardimon has been doing thsi for twenty years and
The run has now finished in the UK but I’m sure the show will be repeated just like the company’s Pinocchio which is returning to Sadlers Wells later in the year: not one to be missed!
Ithankyou Theatre Rating: **** Viscera, vital and violent, Medusa works on the heart as well as the head to leave you questioning and reeling.