O Medea

Trajal Harrell

30 MAY – 2 JUN 2019
Main Stage
A seven-person Chorus in the role of Medea re-reads the work’s ethical and political issues, revising them for a contemporary context. How would Medea speak, dance, and take her revenge in 2019?
Medea always returns. Euripides’s emblematic heroine has, in her way, haunted all modes of artistic creation. From the big screen, to modern dance, to opera, and even to the visual and plastic arts, no other figure has been so strongly influential through time. For apart from her undeniable “mythological” range, Medea also epitomizes the paradox of an internal schism: the Other within the Self.

Celebrated choreographer Trajal Harrell returns to the Onassis Stegi with yet another work, part of a trilogy in the making. Through timely meditation on philosophical and political questions, “O Medea” focuses both on historical aspects of Medea and on representations of the female psyche that surpass the limits of time.

The heroine’s dilemmas and the ritual element of myth are transformed into the personal narrations of a seven-member Chorus who activate the figure of Medea to express stories and issues of their own.


Performed by Trajal Harrell as Medea in tandem with the company of dancers: Titalayo Adebayo, Frances Chiaverini, Maria Silva, Vania Doutel Vaz et al.
Dramaturgy: Debra Levine
Lighting Design: Stéfane Perraud
Set Design: Erik Flatmo and Trajal Harrell
Music – Costume Design: Trajal Harrell

“O Medea” is commissioned by Onassis Stegi, Manchester International Festival and Kampnagel (Hamburg) in association with The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi.
Produced by: Manchester International Festival

World Premiere: Onassis Stegi

read more

In the work “Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure),” which was presented at the Onassis Stegi in 2016, Harrell attempted a reconsideration of “official” historical narratives, most of which silence issues of race and ethnic identity. In a similarly creative re-reading of history, the choreographer now imagines a hypothetical meeting between three different heroines: the emblematic Medea, Maggie from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and Katherine Dunham, a leading figure in modern dance.

“Medea, a barbarian twice over—by birth and from love,” writes Giorgos Heimonas in the introduction to his translation of Euripides’s work. This aspect, of cultural difference, is often overlooked in readings of Medea: the clash between two cultures that also proscribes how the story will unfold. It isn’t only betrayal in love, but also the ensnarement of the subject in civilization, which shapes, even predetermines, certain decisions that subject will take.

Harrell doesn’t linger on Heimonas’s notion of Medea as a “distorted erotic figure,” nor on the “barbarousness of her erotic denuding,” her revenge on Jason, which bubbles up from her boundless, impassioned rage. Rather, Medea becomes the excuse for stories from the present to be heard, which may carry the same despair, centering around the internal schism in the person telling the story. In essence, these are “Medeas”—if one can make such a claim—since the heroine’s role is split between seven different performers.

Trajal Harrell counts among the most important choreographers of his generation, recognized for his series entitled “Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church,” which juxtapose vogueing with the early postmodern dance tradition. Whether treating the recent history of the American avant-garde and queer identity, or the heroines of ancient drama, Harrell uses contemporary narratives to reconsider both the official element of History and how the archive functions as historical evidence.

His work has been presented at international festivals and artistic institutions, including the Avignon Festival, the National Centre for Dance in Paris, and MoMa in New York. The first retrospective of his work, “Hoochie Koochie,” took place at the Barbican Centre in London in 2017. Harrell has received awards including the Doris Duke Impact Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Art Matters, and the Saison Foundation.

sponsoring / partnerships

Transportation sponsor

Hospitality sponsor

Medical cover

Supported by