Myth and commentary on our world: Jasmin Vardimon’s Medusa

Jasmin Vardimon Company at Sadler’s Wells, London
October 22, 2018

David Mead

Jasmin Vardimon’s new work. Medusa, is a reflection on the powerful feminine symbol of the mortal gorgon, punished by Athena with a hideous appearance and loathsome snakes for hair for having been raped in Athena’s temple by Poseidon, and who was later slain by Perseus. There are elements of the tale in the work, but Vardimon also uses it reflect on contemporary life, environmental pollution, and sexual harassment and other issues surrounding womanhood in society.

It makes for uncomfortable viewing at times. Having escaped from a large sheet of plastic sheeting and thus avoided being suffocated, four women suffocate in another way. Lined up and inspected by a man, not unlike the way livestock would be inspected before purchase, they are drained of any respect. Woman is man’s slave is the message. One having been selected, the others are literally brushed off the stage with a large broom. Women are seen as dolls, mere objects.

Elsewhere, and in a rather clever duet, woman is portrayed as a shadow, forever on the floor, beneath and behind the man, only able to exist because of him. “One day she might create a shadow of her own,” he observes, followed quickly by, “I doubt it.” Just to make sure, when she does rebel, she is quickly put back in her place. Even when the women are allowed a moment of joy in a super ensemble dance that positively bounces along, they are interrupted by a man who wants to pontificate on a philosophical point.

Jasmine Vardimon's MedusaPhoto Tristram Kenton
Jasmine Vardimon’s Medusa
Photo Tristram Kenton

The imagery throughout Medusa is stunning, and so is Vardimon’s choreography, some of which calls for athleticism and split-second timing, and gets both in spades. The ensemble dances are excellent, tight knit groups filling the space with movement.

Commentary on other aspects of the world we live in come thick and fast. Pollution of the seas has long been an issue in scientific circles but has only recently been given the emotional heft it required thanks to programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. Vardimon makes the point very obviously from the beginning. The stage is covered in a sea of plastic sheet. It does look like sea as it is moved by dancers beneath, who appear as if fish struggling for air, but the fact it is plastic is, in itself a comment. Then there are the classical Greek looking columns, that you soon realise are chimneys from which a steady stream of smoke comes. Later, a woman sunbathes wearing a gas mask.

A man appears with a metal trash bin for a head. As he ‘speaks’ the lid opens and closes, rubbish spewing out until the whole stage is covered. A commentary on politicians for sure, but maybe on others.

There are references to the myth of Medusa too, perhaps most dramatically her slaying towards the end. Again and again blows from an invisible sword rain down on her until finally she succumbs.

Jasmin Vardimon's MedusaPhoto Tristram Kenton
Jasmin Vardimon’s Medusa
Photo Tristram Kenton

The musical collage that accompanies Medusa is about as eclectic as it comes with over twenty credits listed ranging from opera to chart music via everything in between. It supports the action beautifully, although I’m not quite sure why it is quite so loud, and why so uniformly so. A little more variation in tone would not come amiss.

Amadeo Solernou’s lighting is super, especially the shadows he creates on the backdrop, one figure often looming above the other.

Medusa is quite a commentary on the trying world that we all inhabit, whatever our gender. It’s dance theatre at its very best, and a show to send you away with plenty to muse upon.

Medusa tours again in early 2019. Visit for dates and venues.