Butoh Medea

theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 14 Aug 2015

The shape beneath the veil moves like a liquid shadow, fingers stretching and pulling the gauzy material as if it were a membrane. It's unearthily and extraordinary to watch. This is Yokko's Medea.

Using the dance form butoh, the Japanese artist has turned this archetypal figure from Greek tragedy into a primal force on stage. While Sean Michael Welch's adaptation of Euripedes drops in fragments of text like wrenching memories, this isn't the show to see if you want a straightforward account of Medea's involvement with Jason (of the Argonauts).

But Yokko's visceral choreography captures Medea's grief-fuelled fury at Jason's betrayal of her like a blast of heat from a furnace. As she contorts herself in maddened grief, she's mesmeric. There's the vengeful, implacable figure of Japanese horror in her Medea, but also a woman who has given up everything, including her home, for love.

This show is like an exposed nerve, transforming Medea's eventual murder of her and Jason's children into an echoing howl of misery. As Yokko tears off her clothes—and, in one startling moment, her wig—it feels as if she's stripping away the demonised "witch" and "enchantress" of myth, until there's nothing left.

Brian Rhinehart's production, with its jangling soundscape and shadowy lighting, works well in the subterranean space of Paradise in the Vault, bringing us down into the depths of Medea's torment with her. The extreme nature of the show takes some getting used to, but Yokko's performance is hauntingly striking. It deserves to be experienced.