Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère was first performed in St Petersburg in 1877 by the Bolshoi Ballet, and regularly performed in the Soviet Union throughout the 20th century. Set in India, it’s a classical ballet which tells the story of Nikiya, a temple dancer, her rival Gamzatti, and of love, betrayal and divine vengeance.
The ballet is one of various examples of 19th century artistic Europe’s fascination with the East, and the orientalist ways in which eastern cultures were portrayed and represented as hyper-sexualised, racialised and intellectually inferior. Meaning ‘female dancer’, la bayadère refers to the original devadasi dancers of South India who were often depicted as exotic specimens of the East in the romantic arts of the 19th century.
Building on her love-hate relationship with the ballet, bharatanatyam dancer and contemporary choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh presents a radical re-imagining – Bayadère: The Ninth Life at Sadler’s Wells this October. Jeyasingh uses her production to tackle its history, politics and psychology – exploring and subverting its orientalist gaze. She uses excerpts from the 1838 diary of French poet, novelist, journalist and critic Théophile Gautier about his first encounter with temple dancers when they performed in Paris, to bring that European sense of fascination and bewilderment into sharp relief.
The production is the result of a series of exciting collaborations. The dances and dancers bring together bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. The musical score, which has been specially commissioned from genre-bending composer Gabriel Prokofiev, features both classical and electronica music. The set has been designed by Tom Piper, who co-created the Tower of London’s ceramic poppy installation.
When: Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 October 2017, 7.30pm
Where: Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN
Admission: £12 – £27
More info and to book: Sadler’s Wells
By Sakeena Adamjee.
Posted on 6 October 2017
Photos by Jane Hobson