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Norwegian National Ballet stands firm against calls to ban La Bayadere on grounds of religious sensitivity


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I learned of this on MelonFarmers As much of this site can offend, I have copied the text of the article:

 

Rajan Zed is a perennial whinger who complains about hindu imagery being used outside of a religious context.

He has taken offence at the ballet La Bayadère for its irreverent treatment of religion in general and hinduism in particular.

The ballet seems to be on world tour with Zed whingeing at each venue that stages it. Zed spoke of performances by the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet claiming that:

 

    This deeply problematic ballet was just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibited 19th-century orientalist attitudes.

 

Zed further said that Norwegian National Ballet should have shown some maturity before selecting a ballet like La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer) displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping. He added:

 

    It was highly irresponsible for Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, whose strategy stated We will create and present operas and ballets which make an impact; to choose such a ballet which had been blamed for patronizing flawed mishmash of orientalist stereotypes, dehumanizing cultural portrayal and misrepresentation, offensive and degrading elements, needless appropriation of cultural motifs, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing, etc. Norwegian National Opera & Ballet could do better than this to serve its diverse stakeholders.

 

    The Norwegian Ministry of Culture and Equality and its Minister Anette Trettebergstuen should also take its areas of responsibility culture, equality and discrimination more seriously, and have better understanding of the feelings of others to do the job more effectively.

 

Now Norwegian National Opera & Ballet has refused to cancel its production and Zed is not happy:

 

    We plan to appeal to Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre as it is simply unfair, unethical and inappropriate to spend taxpayer's money on caricaturing other culture.

 

Link to Zed complaint

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It is so sad but unsurprising that ballet is not immune to this sort of behaviour - the statue topplers are many.  Good for Norwegian Ballet, but there are rumours that Bayadère will not be appearing at Covent Garden any time soon…for the same reasons but, in an ever so British way, the debate is swept under the carpet.  Anyone wanting to see RB dancers in Petrushka, arguably Fokine’s greatest masterpiece, will also never get their wish granted, it seems…don’t ditch the ‘offensive’ part, ditch the whole ballet.

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In my home town, there is a Victorian museum partly preserved in its original layout with stuffed animals, colonial weapons etc, far from today's sensibilities. It is however visited as an example of a Victorian museum, a kind of meta museum - so as well as looking at the exhibits, you can consider the attitudes and values of the time.  I suggest that we are all intelligent enough to watch period ballets and plays in the same way, contextualising and understanding past fads for orientalism, demonising contemporary enemies etc.  Taking these elements out is removing interesting historical information. 

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It is difficult to see where this will end. Works are withdrawn on grounds of context, choreographer, anything whereby merely one single individual may take offence for any imagined slight, however far removed that may be from reality. This must surely soon extend to anyone connected with a work in any way - dancers, repetiteurs, set designers, orchestra members. As more and more people become afraid to put forward balanced, common sense points of view such as those set out by Quintus, we run the risk of being cowed into accepting a state of total, puritanical repression in every area of our lives.

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1 hour ago, The Sitter In said:

It is so sad but unsurprising that ballet is not immune to this sort of behaviour - the statue topplers are many.  Good for Norwegian Ballet, but there are rumours that Bayadère will not be appearing at Covent Garden any time soon…for the same reasons but, in an ever so British way, the debate is swept under the carpet.  Anyone wanting to see RB dancers in Petrushka, arguably Fokine’s greatest masterpiece, will also never get their wish granted, it seems…don’t ditch the ‘offensive’ part, ditch the whole ballet.

 

I would argue that 'statue toppers' are not many - they are loud. The problem is the majority are normally apathetic, allowing the loud minority to hold sway. If we want to preserve masterpieces such as La Bayadere from the baying mob, then what it will take is the majority making a loud protest about attempts to cancel it. 

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Hmm, I can see why you might describe the website as "offensive", if that report is any example :(.

 

The Links pages have reported on Rajan Zed's objections to La Bayadère many times in the past.  I have no idea how other Hindus may feel about the ballet, but he is clearly on a one-man crusade (may I use that word in this context?) to get it banned.

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On 14/01/2022 at 10:12, The Sitter In said:

 there are rumours that Bayadère will not be appearing at Covent Garden any time soon…for the same reasons but, in an ever so British way, the debate is swept under the carpet.  


really hope this isn’t true. 
 

I try not to comment on these things but didn’t Bayadere sell well last time? With good reviews? 
 

I genuinely didn’t see anything offensive/racist in the recent run at Covent Garden (I did see a clip of the Rojo/Acosta DVD I believe I hope I’m not mixing this with another production, I know Bolshoi do this too, where I think the fakirs had stronger face/body paint which I did find a bit shocking and definitely could be offensive akin to blackface). 
 

Rather than just cancelling why not have a discussion group with people from that background/heritage to highlight what is actually offensive and how this could be removed. 
 

I doubt any of the choreography could be construed as racist in of itself (at least the main solos and white shade scenes) so if it’s some costume changes and no paint (for example) so surely the production shouldn’t be scrapped in its entirety. As for the sets (eg a temple) being depicted in of itself as being offensive I really don’t understand this - churches can also be used as sets surely and as long as it’s not mocking or presenting as historically accurate is there a problem with this? Perhaps I’m just ignorant but surely a group could discuss and try to understand in any case. 
 

if it is offensive I’m sure there’s a way sets could be changed and people would rather that than lose the ballet in its entirety. 

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This reminds me of the controversy swirling around The Mikado, which is Gilbert and Sullivan's masterpiece, because it's deemed to be offensive by parodying Japan (which is really isn't, it's actually parodying British culture) and having the cast made up to look vaguely Japanese. Then I'm hearing about Othello being offensive because of the use of blackface and The Merchant of Venice because of the Jewish caricature of Shylock, and I'm beginning to wonder where this all ends. Pretty sure that whatever you do, someone will manage to be offended, yet doing nothing really isn't an option. I hope the people responsible for programming and casting will work hard to find the most sensible middle way through this minefield, with the smallest possible number of casualties.

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4 hours ago, Melody said:

This reminds me of the controversy swirling around The Mikado, which is Gilbert and Sullivan's masterpiece, because it's deemed to be offensive by parodying Japan (which is really isn't, it's actually parodying British culture) and having the cast made up to look vaguely Japanese. Then I'm hearing about Othello being offensive because of the use of blackface and The Merchant of Venice because of the Jewish caricature of Shylock, and I'm beginning to wonder where this all ends. Pretty sure that whatever you do, someone will manage to be offended, yet doing nothing really isn't an option. I hope the people responsible for programming and casting will work hard to find the most sensible middle way through this minefield, with the smallest possible number of casualties.

 

To look on the bright side, there are signs of critics (and not just the usual suspects) calling out overreach - the current Tate Hogarth exhibition has attracted ridicule for the way the captions strain to come up with an angle. Here's Rachel Cooke in the Observer:

 

"Nor was I keen on its curators’ painfully extreme anxiety towards social attitudes in this period; to the connections of some of its subjects to colonialism and slavery; to sexism and antisemitism. They treat the work like bombs that are about to detonate. Desperate to defuse them before anyone is upset, they have appointed no fewer than 18 “commentators” (mostly academics), whose often clod-hopping analyses appear next to the work: a committee that has been designed to spot offence before it’s taken and even, on occasion, to invite the visitor to see insults that may not actually exist."

 

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/nov/07/hogarth-and-europe-review-razzle-and-dazzle-but-not-much-fun

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