‘La Bayadere’ Brings Indian Influence to Prague’s National Theater
La Bayadére’s original Petipa choreography, set to a Minkus score, premiered in St Petersburg in 1877, but “The traditional story is a little bit more superficial than what I’m doing,” Javier Torres began, clearly tired but still energized and friendly after an evening rehearsal.
He tells Opus Osm, “Basically, in the time [La Bayadére] was done, it wasn’t so necessary that the story was precise, as long as there was a lot of glamour.
“The story is rather simple,” he explains. “There are two lovers – a young warrior and a temple dancer – who meet secretly. Because he’s noble and she’s poor, his mother is afraid that they’re becoming too close, so she sends the girl to a temple where she will become a priestess.” Later, the warrior, Solor, must marry another woman. After many dramatic twists, the temple dancer, Nikiya, finally dances to her death at their engagement celebration rather than live without Solor’s love.
But “I wanted to add more depth,” Mr Torres says, “so I added two characters.” One is Nikiya’s mother; the other is Solor’s mother, a dominant woman. “Solor is not only weak in front of his dominant mother, but he’s also afraid of breaking the rules in India, which is something you don’t do – especially in those times, and even nowadays.”
He also spent a lot of time considering ‘the rules’ for costumes. He’s kept the tutus in a dream scene; but what to do about Nikiya’s veil? After all, wearing the veil has been “a big thing” even in modern times, he points out.
“In the original production, Nikiya wears a veil for a short time, but then dances most of the ballet without it. The way I tell it, she will dance a lot of the dances with the veil, because we should understand that she’s not allowed to show her face to men, other than the high priest. I thought, why not use all these elements that are still so present in our society nowadays?”
Buddhism in the BalletMr Torres has visited India multiple times, and has added symbols to La Bayadére from his travels and from Buddhism. “I think Buddhism has really affected the consciousness of India,” he explains. “It’s such a long and peaceful tradition. When you’re nurtured with peace for centuries, of course you can only radiate peace. When you go to India, in spite of all the difficult situations like poverty, there is goodness in the people.”
When it comes to Prague’s reputation for not being very religious, the optimistic Mexican choreographer shows no concern about presenting them with a spiritual story. “I think that maybe religion is not so popular, but spirituality is something completely different.
“I actually find that the people I work with are highly spiritual,” he confides. “They have very deep interests in India or in Buddhism. So maybe as a country the search for spirituality is not so high, but it’s higher than you think or know.”
He adds, “In this story, it’s not about forces who are above or outside us. It’s not spiritual forces who are fighting. It’s about us trying to achieve spirituality. When people walk out of La Bayadére, I hope they feel ‘spiritual.’”
The Czech National Ballet’s production of La Bayadére premieres at The State Opera Nov 20 and 21, with further performances Nov 23, Dec 3 and 11, and Jan 17; it will be repeated in June 2015. To read the article on La Bayadére by Javier Torres click on the Re:Source black tab at the top of any page.
— Auburn Scallon, Opus Osm writer
Photo Credits: Top and middle: Martin Divišek; bottom, Staffan Sundstrom