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Leon_Minkus, photo by B Braquehais, circa 1865
Théophile Gautier
Marius Petipa

Composer Gabriel Prokofiev talks us through the music he has created for Bayadère – The Ninth Life

The Ludwig Minkus score for the original La Bayadère has of course been a big influence on the music I have created for this work. In fact much has been created from a recording (provided courtesy of Capriccio Records). I have frequently used the Minkus score as an ‘electroacoustic’ sound-source and manipulated and processed it to form new musical material that is very far from the original. At other times I have allowed familiar motifs and harmonies from Minkus’s composition to emerge.

Remarkably, certain electronic time-stretching processes gave some of the Minkus music a quasi-Indian sound. I have played with Minkus’s very 19th century attempts at Indian-inspired music to bring it a more authentic flavour: further exploring the idea of how one culture perceives, and tries to imitate another.

In the first act of Bayadère – The Ninth Life my music has a very functional role – giving little digital snippets from the Minkus version, which have been distorted and corrupted as they are sent over the internet. Gradually this re-telling of La Bayadère seems to cast a spell over our protagonists and they are swept into a maelstrom of swirling Hidrabadi traffic and warped La Bayadère score, and are magically drawn into the 19th century of Minkus, Petipa and Théophile Gaultier… Music fills the theatre – with a stretched harmony from the famous Kingdom of the Shades scene – an important sonic theme of this work.


1. Ludwig Minkus
2. Théophile Gaultier
3. Marius Petipa


For the second act, the writings and thoughts of 19th century French dance critic, Théophile Gaultier dominate, and the piano (which was in it’s hey-day during this period of Chopin, Liszt and Schumann) enters the score. However, to help express Gaultier’s orientalist fantasies of India, I created a “faux-indian piano” (or ‘i-Piano’). Removing the attack of each piano note creates a sound surprisingly reminiscent of the Tambura (Indian drone instrument), and this instrument plays-out Gaultiers fantasies of the Orient and the bayadères. As Act 2 progresses, and the character of the bayadère gains more confidence, South Indian instruments enter the mix, Indian Flute, Veena, Mringangam, Chenda climaxing with vocal percussion, known as ‘Jathis’, performed by dancer Sooraj Subramaniam.

The third act returns us to the modern world, with the sound of the dancer’s voices bringing us back to the reality of 21st century life. The music takes on a more electronic feel, yet it is entirely created from a recording of Minkus’s famous Kingdom of the Shades music: reworked with pulsing, granular effects, delivering a much more modern, post-minimalist ‘remix’ of the La Bayadère.

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