Review: Bayadère – The Ninth Life

Review: Bayadère – The Ninth Life

Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh explores the 19th century tangled love story of La Bayadère. La Bayadère’s main character is an Indian temple dancer, Nikiya who is in love with the warrior Solor. The princess Gamzatti is ordered to marry Solor and poisons Nikiya. Her death leads Solor to despair and ultimately self-destruction…

Through storytelling, postmodern dance, Indian classical dance (Bharatanatyam) and technology, Shobana embraces Marius Petipa’s 19th century ballet, La Bayadère, and his curiosity and fascination of Indian dancers.

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance 

Choreographer, Concept & Direction: Shobana Jeyasingh

Set & Costume Design: Tom Piper

Music: Gabriel Prokofiev

Light Design: Fabiana Piccioli

Video Design: Sander Loonen

16th October 2017

Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Review produced by: Tamar Dixon – Unique Tay

 A European Ballet set in 19th century India.

Bayadère – the Ninth Life @ Sadlers Wells Theatre | Model: Sooraj Subramaniam

The famous ballet first premiered in St Petersburg at the Bolshoi Theatre, in 1877. It was set in Royal India and showcased powerful ballerinas. With hints of Indian cultural characteristics, this famous ballet portraying India had no Indian dancers actually performing on stage. Shobana’s genuine interest for La Bayadère sparks inspiration to revisit Petipa’s work, by flipping the table and including an Indian male dancer to play Nikiya. Her Bayadère is performed by Sooraj Subramaniam.

Actor Adi Chugh first takes the stage, costumed in western business attire and set in a modern day hotel room. Chugh exchanges WhatsApp messages with his friend, who shares his own recent trip to the ballet to see La Bayadère. Chugh’s exchanged messages are skilfully projected on a big screen, enabling the audience to also watch dance clips of La Bayadère. Chugh slowly gazes at his screen watching video performances of each dancer entering the stage showing off their individual distinct characteristics.

The use of technology, featuring WhatsApp was unexpected, as this left me sitting on edge, eager to learn how the use of technology progresses throughout the duration of Shobana’s version of La Bayadère, Bayadère – The Ninth life.  

…”twisted love and revenge through classical Ballet and Bharatanatyam”.

Full cast – from Bayadère – The Ninth Life

Chugh becomes the Indian temple dancer, who is now performed by Subramaniam. The stage is flooded with the cast, who swifts through from left to right, as they push and pull Subramaniam on mobile frames. He creates divine postures on the frames but he is still somewhat objectified. First adored, fetishised, only to then be rejected, as his gestures are imitated, particularly with the use of fans. I admired the use of fans especially as the cast were expressive with their attitude, very bold and confident.

As Shobana’s work continues, the pace gradually accelerates with exchanges of rapid, sharp, bodily movements. The cast typically partners up like magnets, suddenly and consistently switching positions, with pauses and turns of animalistic movements like a peacock… While the Indian Temple dancer, Subramaniam blends Nikiya’s twisted love and revenge through classical ballet and Bharatanatyam.

Stage design and technology in dance.

This one of a kind choreography is accompanied with a voice over, capturing the tensions on stage, taken from 19th century writer Theophile Gautier. The stage appearance is set quite modestly, and is designed by Tom Piper. The dark stage is deprived of objects apart of the mobile frames resembling temple shapes and the copper cables above like clouds. I feel that this dark daunting stage design fits perfectly, considering the rebellious love story. I acknowledge that Piper attempts to sustain the originality of La Bayadère through his designs and imagery of royalty, where Nikiya is costumed in dazzling Indian body and nose jewellery.

In terms of design and technology, video designer Sander Loonen, portrays a ballet dancer on a large background screen, who occasionally and delicately dances across the stage with the creative use of image filter effects, such as ‘negative’ and TV ‘static’. Implementing the use of technology and video in dance production can be used as a tool to interact more closely, enhancing the audience’s experience. This is an innovative idea. Although, this usage left some gaps in my mind, as I struggled to comprehend the link of utilising this idea, especially for this specific performance. The overall performance would have been equally fascinating without the use of technology.

 About Shobana Jeyasingh Dance.

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance creates stimulating experiences to stage and site-specific locations of modern dance forms with her foundation rooted in Indian classical dance. Her work has been challenging, daring and inspired by the world around us. It is evident that dance is a piece of art, as Shobana expresses curiosity through dance.

La Bayadère represents how cultures can easily influence one another, be entwined through art and dance. However, Shobana’s thought-provoking, enticing dance theatre piece Bayadère – The Ninth Life, somehow sheds light on the lack of Indian representations. She questions as an Indian woman how could the original ballet La Bayadère retrieve so much praise, despite it imitating Indian dancers (what they assumed was Indian) with little to no recognition of where it originated from. Was La Bayadère a La Bayadère blatant cultural appropriation or simply a gesture of admiration?

Inspiration – Shobana’s work certainly inspires me as a young creative. I am on the route to utilising my own creative skillset keeping my spider diagram of ideas tucked away in my mind (and on paper of course).

You can learn more about Shobana Jeyasingh Dance and Bayadère – The Ninth Life here and updates on future performances at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

Catch my first review of Shobana’s past work Material Men Redux 

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Unique Tay

3 Replies to “Review: Bayadère – The Ninth Life”

    1. Hello Lavern,

      Thank you for your comment. Glad you enjoyed my review. May I ask are you too interested in Shobana Jeyasingh’s work?

      Stay blessed

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