Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 22nd October 2018
“The stage is too often so busy with scenery and props that the extraordinary skill and beauty of the movement itself is lost”
Jasmin Vardimon Company is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with this sumptuous conceptual take on the Medusa myth. The company is renowned for the theatrical choreography of its founder and Artistic Director, Jasmin Vardimon, and Medusa makes full use of a theatre maker’s box of tricks – from extravagant props, costumes and visual effects, to intermittent fragments of spoken text and other performed vocalisations. As the lavish programme is at pains to point out (it contains an academic essay, ‘Transformation and liquid modernity in Jasmin Vardimon’s Medusa’ as well as Vardimon’s own introductory and explanatory words) the Medusa myth has proved fertile ground for intellectual and creative exploration; this work seeks to place itself firmly in that tradition.
Vardimon’s introduction references Sartre and Ovid; Armando Rotondi’s essay ranges from ancient Greek etymology to Zygmunt Bauman by way of John Berger, taking in capitalism and climate change en route. It is a crowded agenda, and the show suffers from it, both literally and metaphorically. The stage is too often so busy with scenery and props that the extraordinary skill and beauty of the movement itself is lost; similarly, the determination to give equal weight to each of the myth’s many manifestations, means that Medusa’s power – both as an icon and as an event – is too diffuse to be properly felt.
That said, the piece provides the audience with some unbelievably beautiful and potent images, and Vardimon’s dancers are frequently breathtaking. The moments that work best are those in which this supreme level of physical artistry is left to speak for itself. Despite all the text and trappings, it is the human body that really does the talking here. The opening sequence, in which yet another Medusa manifestation makes itself felt – that of the jellyfish, or medusa, as it is known in Italy and Spain – is remarkable, not just for the billowing sheet of transparent plastic, but for the way in which the shapes and movements of the dancers’ hands and feet so exactly evoke an underwater world. Similar choreographic invention informs an incredibly disturbing sequence of sexual violence, as well as spellbinding scenes of witchery and enchantment.
Vardimon is clearly an exceptional talent; not only is she director and choregrapher, but sound and set designer too. T.S.Eliot’s masterful poem The Waste Land wouldn’t exist in its present form without Ezra Pound’s editing skills, and one wonders whether Vardimon could also benefit from an equally powerful creative voice to be heard in her process, and to facilitate the judicious trimming down of the material. The company dances at the highest level and the audience needs the space to breathe and to wonder. In its current form, Medusa is such an exhaustive examination of its inspiration, that it leaves the audience not inspired, but exhausted.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Sadler’s Wells Theatre