Pros: An insightful reclaiming of a European fantasy combining contemporary and classical elements to produce innovative and boundary pushing choreography.
Cons: The story loses itself slightly in the middle where dance for dance’s sake seems to preside and the narrative is unclear.
Bayadere, The Ninth Life is both choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh’s emotional and critical response to, the nineteenth century ballet, La Bayadère, set in India and featuring an Indian temple dancer as its main protagonist. Perhaps inspired by her unsettled reaction to the original ballet, Jeyasingh also uses this opportunity to respond to the almost anthropological, nigh scientific, reaction of 1800s French critic and writer, Théophile Guatier, to the European tour of actual Bayadères (European colloquialism for the female temple dancers of India) in 1838.
The result of these physical responses to two nineteenth century European ideas of Indian culture is a contemporary dance piece that exposes stereotypes from within through extraordinary choreography (Jeyasingh), unique music (Gabriel Peokofiev), androgynous costuming (Adam Wiltshire) and striking light design (Fabians Piccioli).
A fiction set within a fiction, the show cleverly opens with the reaction of a young Indian, male blogger to the original ballet. The bloggers’ experience is projected onto a stage screen in ‘real time’, closely mimicking Shobana Jeyasingh’s reaction to La Bayadère which she relates in the programme’s introduction. This is usefully also used as a means to provide a background to the plot of the original La Bayadère, complete with ballet-styled demonstration, each dance interaction mimicked on screen by naked animated characters, an element that was rather distracting without adding dimension to the story.
Contemplating an outsider’s view of the an Indian experience, the blogger imagines himself in the place of the Bayadère dancers’ tour to Europe in 1838, aligning himself with their cause, putting himself at the centre of being ‘other-ed’ in the European eye.
Dressed in traditional Indian dance costume, the blogger appears as the most ‘foreign’ among the other Bayadère dancers. As Theophile Guatier’s perception of one Bayadère from 1838 in particular is read in the background, the blogger moves in what can only be described as the way a European thought an Indian would move in the day, while the other dancers manipulate each other’s movement, specifically the men over the women, while sections of Guatier’s thoughts are read and re-read, intensity and grittiness increasing.
Eventually the blogger returns to his everyday garb and takes his turn controlling the gaze as the Indian takes in his interpretation of European dance.
It’s a complex, almost academic, commentary rendered impressively in dance form. The choreography and music interact perfectly to juxtapose what nineteenth century audiences saw, and indeed might still see now, in La Bayadère or the 18th century appearance of real Bayaderes, and the darker, uncomfortable ‘other-ing’ of a different nationality demonstrated by Gautier.
Intellectually meaty with mind-bending choreography, this piece will challenge most anything you have seen before.
Author, Director & Choreographer: Shobana Jeyasingh
Composer: Gabriel Prokofiev
Booking Until: 28 March 2015
This show has now completed its run.