Choreographer Jasmin Vardimon reflects on the poetic and wider significance of the figure of Medusa in her latest work, which heads to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Thursday, February 7.
As Jasmin says, most people will think of Medusa as the monster; considerably fewer people will think of the rape Medusa suffered and which perhaps makes her later life more comprehensible.
“Gender and injustice are subjects that I have previously explored, but the current climate brought me back to explore them again,” Jasmin says. “The first reminder of the myth was the recent US presidential election when Trump supporters had T-shirts showing Hillary Clinton’s chopped-head as Medusa... I did quite a lot of research, and the myth of Medusa quite a lot of the time is as a strong woman or a strong woman that has been silenced. But there is also the Me Too movement going on, and it seemed relevant. I believe that myths are stories that are told and transmitted because they have social significance still, but one of the things that I found really interesting was the fact that a section of the Medusa is a lot less well known, the section in which she is raped by Poseidon. It is Medusa as a monster that people most remember. But she was pushed to that and she was punished by Athena.
“There is a lot of interpretation of the story, that Athena punished her to protect her so that she won’t become a victim again or other people say that Athena punished her out of jealousy.
“The story is timeless, and I am looking at different connotations of the story. I am looking at objectification, at being an object. I am also looking at that awareness of being an object.”
Also key are the environmental aspects. In zoology the word medusa means a saucer-shaped or dome-shaped, free-swimming jellyfish or hydra. In fact, as Jasmin points out, in no fewer than 28 languages, the word for jelly-fish is medusa or a variant of it.
“We created the piece in Barcelona, by the sea.”
And there Jasmin became aware of the fact that jelly fish it seems are among the very few creatures believed likely to survive global warming and pollution. Pollution including plastic in the oceans is killing their predators. Jelly fish look likely to be the great survivors:
“I am also looking at the parallels and similarities with gender politics, how we treat Mother Earth, with pollution and with the sea. It is an exploration of the wider content.”
Also continuing to tour at the moment is her production of Pinocchio – very different to Medusa, but surprisingly similar too: “They are both old stories that I am finding new ways to tell. With Pinocchio, a lot of people only know the Disney version, but I have gone back to the original story. I am doing a retelling of the original 19th-century story, just as I am bringing back this myth, but not as a lot of people think of it, people who just think of her as a monster. I am showing more about her. So it is going back to the original, so yes, there are similarities...”