‘Bayadère – The Ninth Life’ is the latest work by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, offering an imaginative re-awakening of the 19th Century ballet ‘La Bayadère’ by French choreographer Petipa.
The original ballet is a fantastical celebration of the orient, showcasing a saga of Indian warriors and temple dancers, through a lens of Western cliché.
The narrative being somewhat complex, Jeyasingh allows the audience a quick introduction to the ballet through the ‘vantage point of a 21st Century metropol.’ Ipad in hand, a young ‘blogger’ begins writing of his first encounter with the ancient ballet ‘La Bayadère’. His words are projected on a physical screen behind, as each of the Indian characters are introduced. Dancers move in a box of light illustrating character through their bodies and re-imagining 19th Century waltz steps with strong shapes and flashes of humour.
A trance like phrase pours across the space, as the ‘temple dancers’ are juxtaposed against the modernity of the young blogger, soon luring him into their fantasy world and transforming him into the ‘Lead Devadasi’ or (dancer). The musical accompaniment then shifts to spoken word, based on extracts of Théophile Gautier’s writing. During which he explicitly describes his own experience of seeing a group of Devadasis perform in Paris in 1838. In particular a young dancer – Amany who’s skin is “silkier than rice paper and cooler than a lizard’s underbelly”.
A fury of duets take the stage, forcefully moving through a series of awkward shapes, brought together with strong manipulated qualities and a pleasing diagonal use of space. The combination of words and movement used by Jeyasingh, cleverly highlights Gautier’s obsession with the exotic temple dancers and the objectifying nature of his own thoughts.
Jeyasingh described the final section as a ‘vision of heaven’ brought from the imagination of the young blogger. From here we lose a strict sense of narrative and the movement begins to take the central focus. A series of shifting duets, trios and solos begin, seamlessly managing to combine rippling fluidity with moments of internal tension. The dancers take and give weight with real commitment, allowing phrases of earthed contact work while continuing to deliver great energetic intensity. Jeyasingh has a real eye for detail, offering moments of held shape and intricate hand gestures, which elevates the movement content and leaves you with pleasingly resonant imagery.
The young blogger is transformed back into his former self and with the touch of a button it all disappears.
A thought provoking piece that manages to simultaneously reinvent and critique ‘La Bayadère’ while engaging movement fanatics with an energetic and detailed physical vocabulary.
Written by: Esme Shea – Creative Intern at Dance in Devon
Image: Sunbee Han, Sooraj Subramaniam, Emily Pottage, Avatâra Ayuso and Richard Causer in Bayadere – The Ninth Life. © Foteini Christofilopoulou.