THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF MYRRHA
O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin
In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Orpheus recounts the story of Myrrha, who is cursed by Aphrodite to fall in love with her father. After becoming pregnant she is forced to flee to Arabia, where the gods take pity on her and transform her into a myrrh tree.
This is where Junk Ensemble's The Misunderstanding of Myrrha – staged as part of Dublin Dance Festival Winter Edition – begins, the figure standing on a pedestal with a dramatic head-dress of branches. It is also the point when Ovid's moralising male authorship is finally silenced by the long-muted voice of Myrrha. Or rather her body, for the choreographers Jessica and Megan Kennedy, along with the artist Alice Maher, have focused on her physical response to her trauma in a soliloquy danced wonderfully by Julie Koenig.
Junk Ensemble’s highly visual aesthetic has rarely been as minimal, with Maher creating an unadorned stage with just a cylindrical pedestal, a small mound of earth and a larger hollow mound, like a grave, all three objects essential to the action. Simple pieces of gnarled wood are suspended overhead.
Throughout, Myrrha is rightly seen as a victim rather than as an active participant in the deception of her father. Sex and desire are used against her, not by her. And although she is stricken by physical violence, her body is her source of strength
This sense of spaciousness allows Koenig to fully express Myrrha’s embodied trauma and her slow transformation, from standing on top of the spacially confining pedestal to devouring every inch of space on the large stage.
It is not a straight trajectory, and we observe her trauma reappearing. At one point her inner strength is displayed as her body bends and straightens but refuses to fall, as if rooted by a gyroscopic equilibrium. Later she is listless and lying in the grave, pulling earth over her body with heart-breaking resignation.
Throughout, Myrrha is rightly seen as a victim rather than as an active participant in the deception of her father. Sex and desire are used against her, not by her. And although she is stricken by physical violence, her body is her source of strength. Koenig captures this sense of vulnerability and power in an unwaveringly intense performance, particularly in a joyous final dance.
Denis Clohessy's music, featuring baroque-tinged organ, and Stephen Dodd's nuanced lighting add a sense of the mythical throughout as the action reaches a somewhat rushed conclusion.