A Modern-Day Medea is Mythology’s 'Nasty Woman'
Inside Yara Travieso's immersive re-imagining of Euripides’ violent tragedy.
Photo by Maria Baranova
Medea, the Ancient Greek myth about a magic-wielding, foreign born woman who murders her children to get revenge on the man who left her, is coming to Brooklyn. But this isn’t your high school play. It’s an impassioned and unintentionally timely celebration of “one of the first women to be feared by men.” La Medea, the new production by Brooklyn artist Yara Travieso, runs from January 20 to 22, both as a live show presented by Performance Space 122's 2017 COIL Festival at BRIC House and as an interactive live film film presented by Dance Films Association and powered by Twitch.
La Medea combines dance, interactive theater, live music, film, and live broadcasting, creating a genre of art all its own. It took two and a half years to wrangle all the production pieces, but the hardest part was coming to terms with a main character who’s just as complex. “Medea is this sensationalized, wild, vengeful, Kill Bill-esque character who murders her children. And she’s portrayed as a foreigner and savage and barbaric and hysterical… But she’s also this knowledgeable scientist and political figure,” Travieso tells The Creators Project.
In conceptualizing her own Medea, Travieso felt pressured to pick one characterization angle and stand by it. But reducing one of history's strongest women to a single dimension came with a litany of implications, most of which she wasn't prepared to make, so Travieso shifted her approach.
“When I started to really dig into her, I found something interesting about the way she rejects all the roles that are put onto her as a woman, but also performs them,” she says.
As Travieso began to accept Medea's contradictions, they shifted from character flaws to very real, very human complexities. Her Medea could exist as both the barbarian and the foreigner, the vengeful killer and the vulnerable women, the witch and the scientist.
“I thought, why not allow all of these versions of her to be the story, and give her freedom through that form, through the infiniteness of her?” Travieso explains.
The production seeks its own freedom through form by asking the audience to accept many points of view told through ever-changing genres. Throughout the show, La Medea shifts from performance to dance to concert to musical to telenovela, but retains a single identity, much like its shero, Medea. Sometimes the shifts happen seamlessly, other times the audience — who stands within the set, acting as a live Greek chorus — takes part in the change, entering Travieso’s creative process and all the vulnerability that comes along with it. Three cameras, two of which are handheld, capture this intricate dance of form and broadcast it live to a digital audience, who becomes a second chorus. People viewing at home can voice their opinions in the form of comments, which somehow make it into the script itself. Then, after the live performance is over, the footage will be edited for a cinematic premiere on February 7.
The production is so complex that at any one time Travieso, who directs the production live, must know the count for each dancer’s choreography, the shots for each of the three cameras, the lighting positions, the mirror positions (the set is covered in moving mirrors), the song that the live band is playing, the lines in the script and who is speaking them, and more.
Travieso's team is a collection of artists and multi-talented producers who she describes as "really intense women and three really sensitive guys." Among them are all-female camera operators, a conscious decision that puts the entire production’s point of view, and 30 pounds of equipment, in the hands of women.
It also puts La Medea in direct conversation with the original play, which was written by a man and performed by men. In casting nearly all women, as well as foreigners — her team comes from seven different countries — Travieso is showing a side of Medea that's never been shown, and doing so the weekend of the Women’s March on Washington, DC.
“There has been a lot of anxiety in our team about the current political climate," says Travieso, "and it’s so great to have certain scenes be so cathartic.”
La Medea shares Travieso’s vulnerability and search for freedom, and in doing so, invites you inside of this thing that isn’t sure exactly what to call itself, or if that even matters, but is so very sure of what it stands for.