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Choreographer Jasmin Vardimon on the myth of Medusa

[Photograph by Tristram Kenton]

Jasmin Vardimon is one of the world’s leading female choreographers and this year brings a rather special milestone for Jasmin and her company, an incredible 20th Anniversary, which she shares with Sadler’s Wells 20th year, where she is also an Associate Artist. Run Riot catches up with Jasmin to discuss the importance of these milestones, but also to learn more about her new work Medusa, which premieres at Sadler’s Wells this Autumn.

Renowned for her theatrical choreographic style and use of physical theatre, this new full-length production explores the myth behind Medusa, through the lens of contemporary life and Medusa’s powerful role as a feminine symbol. As well as Medusa’s aquatic symbolism and the environmental and political landscape of marine life. Led by a remarkable and multi-talented cast, Medusa looks certain to bring audiences another captivating piece of work.

Bethan Wood: Where did you begin your journey in creating your new work Medusa, and what instigated the reference to Medusa herself?

Jasmin Vardimon: The journey for this work started from reflecting on the social and environmental climate we live in. The work is a poetic reflection on the powerful feminine symbol of Medusa, the myth and its wider social and environmental connotations in our contemporary life.

It was created while on residency by the sea in Barcelona. Environmental concerns of plastic in the sea and the effect of pollution and global warming on sea life became much more apparent, with more plastics and ‘medusas’ (jellyfish) floating in the sea.

Gender and injustice are subjects I’ve previously explored in my work over the years, but perhaps the current climate brought me back to explore this old story in a much wider reflection. Another reminder was the recent US presidential election, when Donald Trump supporters were seen wearing T-shirts of Trump as Perseus, holding the chopped head of Hilary Clinton as Medusa.

Bethan: What was your understanding of Medusa and Greek mythology, and how did you explore the symbolism of her character within your choreographic process?

Jasmin: Many of us know the myth of Medusa from the long 15-book poem Metamorphosis by Ovid. Rather than retelling the story, I was interested in deconstructing it in a more poetic approach.

While some dismiss myth as the product of primitive imagination, I believe they can also be viewed as stories that are told and transmitted because they have social significance. One of the intriguing elements I find in the myth of Medusa is in fact the section of the story that is less told, somehow even forgotten: the rape of Medusa by Poseidon, the punishment by Athena, and how Medusa transformed from a beautiful woman to be the monster that most people associate her with.

Bethan: Were there any other themes you explored and how did this drive the imagery and physicality of the piece?

Jasmin: Medusa’s name has been used since the 16th century in Zoology to what we call in English ‘jellyfish’. (Medusa is also how you say jellyfish in most Latin languages, and others like Hebrew, my mother tongue).

This is probably because of its tentacles that inject venom into its prey and paralyse it, but also for the fact that in their cycle of life jellyfish go through metamorphosis. For at least 600 million years, medusas have been floating through our seas. It’s probably the oldest multi-organ animal existing today.

Nowadays, pretty much everything that damages our ecosystem seems to benefit them: overfishing brings down the number of predatory fish, plastic in the oceans kill other predators like turtles and above all, medusas flourish in warm water; some scientists say that they will survive and thrive in global warming.

Through my work I'm interested in reflecting on our past and the future. I question how would our eco system change? What transformation / metamorphosis will happen to earth following the current pollution of air and seas?

Right now, an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. The effects on ocean life are devastating. I do believe we are the primitives of an unknown future civilisation and what we do or don't do will effect what that future might be.

All these issues explored during the creation process affected the visual and physical elements of the piece.

[Photograph by Tristram Kenton]

Bethan: You are renowned for creating highly physical and theatrical work, were there any particular moments in the making of Medusa that led to any unexpected revelations that manifested themselves within the final work?

Jasmin: Through research and exploration I’ve found some parallels between sexual politics and environmental politics. I do feel that there are clear similarities in some of the brutality of action suffered by our planet (some call it Mother Earth or Gaia). 

The brutality, the pollution and carelessness actions are painful to witness. More disturbing to me is the realisation that key political figures like Donald Trump are dismissing global warming and environmental issues calling it a ‘hoax' or ‘conspiracy’.

Bethan: Medusa brings together a remarkable international cast, what was it about this group of artists that you wanted to bring together to create and perform this work?

Jasmin: I've worked with some of the cast members before in my Company, and some have been chosen through a long process of auditions where I’ve seen hundreds of candidates. I’ve looked for performers that can convey and communicate with their entire performance capacity (physically, vocally, emotionally and intellectually) to deliver this piece of work. The cast chosen is a group of international multi-talented performers with some remarkable performance skills. 

Bethan: Congratulations on your 20th anniversary year of the Jasmin Vardimon Company, what does this milestone mean to you and your team?

Jasmin: It means we’ve a 20 year of history behind us with a substantial amount of repertoire works, but it also means we still have a long future ahead of us, with exciting new projects and productions.

We are in the process of building our own creative hub in Kent (supported by ACE and Kent Council). This building will allow us to continue creating and producing while training and developing a new generation of dancers, choreographers and artistic collaborators.

[Photograph by Tristram Kenton]

Bethan: Jasmin Vardimon Company shares its celebratory year with Sadler’s Wells 20th anniversary. As an Associate Artist at Sadler's Wells, how important is SW to the ever-widening genre of dance and performance?

Jasmin: Being Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells since 2006 means more than half of my Company’s works have been supported, commissioned and presented at Sadler’s Wells. Sadler’s Wells to me is an artistic home, a fuel to free my imagination and transform ideas into art, as well as a fantastic stage to present my work. Under the direction of Alistair Spalding Sadler’s Wells has been supporting various artists, celebrating and presenting the wide variety of dance genres.

Bethan: Do you have any plans in the pipeline for new work that you can share with us?

Jasmin: Not yet, but hopefully soon...

Jasmin Vardimon
jasminvardimon.com@JVCompany
Jasmin Vardimon Company — Medusa
22 - 24 Oct 2018
at Sadler's Wells
Info and tickets: sadlerswells.com