So, it felt like pure serendipity that our paths should cross on Bayadère – the Ninth Life. I’ve been grappling, more than ever this year, with the many complex equations of dance and otherness. And with this piece, Shobana reverses the gaze on La Bayadère —one of Europe’s germinal ballets, and quite the grandmother of all orientalist spectacles. She dissects – but always with sharp good-humour – the perceptions of otherness teeming through the visuals and narrative of Marius Petipa’s masterpiece as well as through the writings that probably inspired the French-Russian choreographer and his librettist: Théophile Gautier’s 1838 chronicles of the first European tour by a troupe of Indian devadasis (female temple dancers), who took Paris by storm for a brief period.
Fittingly, this post-colonial revisiting also leads us to wonder why La Bayadère’s regressive, sometimes shockingly racist, representations like the black-face Golden Idol moment, continue to be a part of revivals by some of the world’s great ballet companies.