[Video by Gary Tanner]
In Shobana Jeyasingh’s Bayadère – The Ninth Life there’s always something new to see with every show. Constantly reinventing her work, she follows what is trending at the time. Back in 2015, she translated her own gaze of Marius Petipa’s 1877 ballet La Bayadère with a young man tapping away on his blog about the story of an Indian female temple dancer trapped in a love triangle between her true love Solor and her rival Gamzatti. Now – 2017 – from Manchester’s Lowry to last night’s premiere performance at the Sadler’s Wells, the opening scene has moved on with a young man texting his London based friend from a hotel room in Hyderabad – he updates him on the ballet his girlfriend made him see, which so happened to be La Bayadère.
Bharatanatyam dancer and contemporary choreographer Jeyasingh has conceived an original and thought-provoking vision of Petipa’s classic ballet, which was once performed regularly in the Soviet Union throughout the 20th century. The performance itself is a fusion of new elements of dancing that I have never seen before; a harmonious balance of traditional ballet, modern contemporary moves and a fascinating Asian dance style called Bharatanatyam.
The clever work of a technical and creative team, including video design and production manager Sander Loonen, lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli and set and costume designer Tom Piper, manage to project text conversations and almost hologramesque dancers onto the stage walls. The luminous staging of carefully coordinated lights (hues of dusk red, ice blue and snake-like green), the integration of intriguing jewel light installations and golden mobile frames are another breakthrough – it keeps the notion of the Bayadère new, fresh and unpredictable.
Bayadère – The Ninth Life is simply mesmerising. It is charged with passion, atmospheric music (composed by Gabriel Prokofiev) and skillfully placed digital projections and astonishing light work, but the main focus is Jeyasingh’s conceptual occupation with Petipa’s ballet in context and the social implications of the bayadère, in its essence.
Anything that wasn’t from the West during the 19th century was viewed as an object that should be neatly displayed in a cabinet of curiosity. Dated and somewhat ignorant ideas of other nationalities and countries, e.g. black-face, (you name it), the Victorians got it wrong. The East was portrayed as intellectually inferior, highly sexualised and, even, savage, but in Bayadère – The Ninth Life we are seeing the view of the bayadère in the 21st Century, as Jeyasingh wants us to see it. Also, the temple dancer isn’t female, which Pepita’s classic ballet wrote the part for. In Jeyasingh’s production, it is a young, attractive, sensual male. Bharatanatyam trained dancer Sooraj Subramaniam is our star and honourary bayadère who masters this lust-worthy, challenging and focal role.
Jeyasingh’s research goes as far as the reaches of 19th Century French journalist Théophile Gautier and his personal interactions with the temple dancers who performed in Paris. A direct translation of the words Gautier used to describe their presence and appearance are voiced over with Prokofiev’s electroacoustic and classically influenced music, some of which are samples from the original score composed by Ludwig Minkus. Based on the diary entries written in 1838, the writer was clearly amused and fond of these devadasi dancers from southern India.
The choreography is ravishing, eclectic and one of its kind. The talent on display spans a group of young artists trained in theatre performance and a diverse range of genres, including contemporary, ballroom, ballet, odissi and bharatanatyam. The collaboration, sensitivity and pure precision shared between all dancers (Sunbee Han, Carmine De Amicis, Fabio Dolce, Bryony Harrison, Avatâra Ayuso, Andre Kamiensky, Noora Kela, Ingvild Krogstad, Jack Thomson and actor Adi Chugh) is praiseworthy and deserves a look in.
Shobana Jeyasingh’s production showed on Monday 16th October and tonight is the last performance, Tuesday 17th October. To book tickets now, go to Sadler’s Well website or find out more about Shobana Jeyasingh, here.