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Tom Piper, Designer
Bayadère – The Ninth Life

The main challenge has been how to critique the visual traditions of established ballet La Bayadère in a witty and meaningful way without undermining the dancers. We want to look at the objectification of the original bayadère dancers and how they were fetishised by Victorian male society. Their appearance was sensually compared to animals and we needed to find a way to express this visually with a sense of irony or parody.

Many of the early ideas revolved around depicting cabinets of curiosities of gentlemen collectors in which all of the exotic objects required in the ballet could be displayed alongside the costume of the bayadère. We also looked at how Orientalist tropes such as stuffed parrots and peacocks might also be used to heighten the parody of a European view of what is different, mysterious and worthy of collecting.

The early versions of this idea were too constricting to the rest of the piece, Shobana’s version of the Kingdom of the Shades in the final section and the first section in which a contemporary Indian man is confronted, via social media, with the absurdity of La Bayadère in the modern world, both required a freer setting. So I began to explore how framing and enclosure could be used at a more subliminal level to highlight the intensity of gaze on the figure that the piece requires from the viewer.

We begin with a single projection screen that allows us an insight into how modern communications occur, as ideas about the traditional ballet bounce back and forth between a man in India and one in the UK. Visions of the dancers on the screen merge with real dancers behind the screen who then enter the main playing space, confronting the audience with distilled iconic fragments of the original ballet.

At the moment we are now imagining the centre section of the piece to take place beneath a chaotic explosion of cables and lights, half contemporary India, half exotic jewel light installation, with a series of golden mobile frames beneath, which the dancers can move to define space, frame figures and create a dialogue between the chorus of dancers and the bayadère figure they both idolise and reject.

I see my role as offering new versions of the visual landscape of the piece which will chime with, but also challenge the existing choreography and create a world in which the dancers fully interact with the physical elements of the work rather than the design existing as a disconnected backdrop to the action of the dance.

Tom Piper 2017©

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