New play explores contemporary womanhood through the myth of Medusa

A graduate of South Philadelphia’s Headlong Dance Theater collaborated with a New York-based French and Spanish performing artist to create  “Medusa Volution.”

A graduate of South Philadelphia’s Headlong Dance Theater collaborated with a New York-based French and Spanish performing artist to create “Medusa Volution,” a new play exploring contemporary womanhood through the myth of Medusa. (Photo special to SPR/Studio Mardok)

Many might be familiar with the myth of Medusa – a maiden who’s unwilling loss of purity caused her transformation into a monster with snake locks for hair. And with just one look, of course, she can turn a man to stone. 

Most, though, might not recognize some contemporary undertones to the ancient Greek story. An upcoming FringeArts production, “Medusa Volution,” which runs from Sept. 17 to 20 at The Maas Building, 1325 N. Randolph St., works to unravel modern parallels to oppression women continue to face today.

The thought crossed the mind of Sophie Amieva, a French and Spanish performing artist, while she was reading the myth to her young daughter. 

“What if we were doing the trial of Medusa today?” asked the New York-based actress. “What does it look like? So, that was really the beginning of this project. With the conclusion of that trial, whatever is going to happen – she gets punished at the end…it’s not about justice. It’s about her virginity.” 

Considering herself a “clown,” Amieva, who grew up in France, studied theater at the International Jacques Lecoq School and studied Commedia Dell’Arte with Carlo Boso of the Piccolo Theater in Milan. Over the course of her career, she developed various interdisciplinary acting skills, particularly in physical theater, for more than two decades. 

Amieva, a professor of NYU Tisch School of the Arts and artistic director of Samieva Theater Company, say some of her theatrical pursuits even included clowning on the streets of France before moving to the United States. 

Across the Atlantic Ocean, another artist was fostering interdisciplinary performing techniques in South Philadelphia. 

Irina Varina, a former Newbold resident, studied dance and theater at Headlong Dance Theater, 1170 S. Broad St., before graduating from the institution a few years ago. While there, she developed theatrics that would later spark a synergy with Amieva as she was developing “Medusa Volution.” 

“A lot of the questions that Sophie was exploring were in my head already,” Varina said. “All of the work that I do in performance art also relates to my personal history of what it’s like to be a woman in the world.”

As Amieva was developing the production, she actually partnered with Susu Bagert,  a corporate lawyer in New York, to craft the legality aspects of these abstract “trials,” which are presented through various forms of physical theater, including Butoh, a type of Japanese dance theater.

During her research, Amieva uncovered the centuries of persecution against women spanning well before Ancient Greece. 

“(Medusa) is not the only one,” she said. “There’s actually a pattern of stories that you can find in many cultures…The story of Medusa is a pattern that you can recognize that has to do with way before Medusa.” 

Though these oppressions have taken manifold variations over the course of human history, Amieva wanted to use these fictional and non-fictional stories as a lens to view women’s standing in countries across the world in 2019. 

“(Amieva) digs into the roots of it…This is the situation of women right now in society,” Varina said. “How did it all start? How did it all happen? Where are the roots of it? Why did it happen? Who let is happen? Who is responsible? There are really no answers.” 

Though there might not be concrete answers, the production strives to shed light on these questions through its theatrical mediums, including the Butoh and grotesque theater performed by a chorus of women. 

The production’s uncanny approaches to storytelling exist to convey truths about women’s place in society.  

“Growing through all that rumble and chaotic place allows us to arrive at those stories of women today….And the Butoh that arrives at the end is about transcendence, I think,” Amieva said. “Just a way to move the whole thing beyond the system, beyond everything, beyond gender – as a more metaphysical place, maybe.”  

No matter the scale of the takeaway, Amieva and Varina hope audiences walk away with a new perspective surrounding womanhood. 

Though the critically acclaimed “Medusa Volution” produced its original run in Brooklyn earlier this year, Amieva and Varina say the pieces aligns particularly well with the artistry of the FringeArts festival and even the social advocacy presence in Philadelphia.

“There’s a lot of things on everybody’s minds right now,” Varina said. “And the artistic community in Philadelphia – there are a lot of activists there and people who are in touch with social issues. So, I’m interested in how they’re going to react to the piece.” 

For more information about the piece, visit fringearts.com/event/medusa-volution/.

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano