Revisions are at the heart of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance’s Bayadère – The Ninth Life, which is both a reexamination of a ballet from 1877, and has itself been significantly reworked since it opened in 2015. The new version, which has its UK premiere at The Lowry, remains a critical response to Marius Petipa’s now legendary ballet La Bayadère – interrogating the over-erotic, exoticised cliché of the Indian dancer presented in the original – but also attempts to go further. Exploring the allure that the bayadère temple dancers held for Europeans, Bayadère – The Ninth Life incorporates extracts from a 1838 text by French author and critic Théophile Gautier in which a visiting group of Indian dancers, under the writer’s objectifying gaze, were heavily romanticised.
This is the second time that Shobana Jeyasingh, the founder of the company, has revisited an existing work; here, she is interested in going further into the legacy of the orientalist movement that sprang up in the wake of the European colonisation of Asia and north Africa, and characterised ‘the east’ in excessively sensual and savage terms. The reimagined piece will be presented within a new set by award-winning theatre designer Tom Piper, who collaborated with artist Paul Cummins to realise Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, better known as the poppies at the Tower of London – and set to a specially-commissioned electro-acoustic score by acclaimed composer Gabriel Prokofiev, developed from the ballet music for Petipa’s original piece. Fusing footage of India, extracts from Gautier and choreography that echoes and reinvents the original ballet, Bayadère – The Ninth Life is a radical, subversive work with a postmodern twist.