In a potentially controversial move, Artistic Director Angel Corella will create a new La Bayadère as part of Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2019-2020 season, which the company is announcing Tuesday. It is the latest in a series of historic full-length ballets he has restaged.
One of the most beautiful and beloved full-length ballets, it is also one that has been called racially insensitive, on several fronts.
The 1877 Petipa ballet tells the story of an Indian temple dancer, often using cultural motifs exaggerated to the point of stereotype. Dance writer Laura Cappelle, reviewing a production by London’s Royal Ballet this November for the Guardian, described the work as “a 19th-century orientalist fantasy.”
As recently as 2007, the Bolshoi Ballet was dancing parts of La Bayadère in blackface.
It will be interesting to see how Corella reworks it.
On the one hand, he told the Inquirer Monday, La Bayadère should be looked at as a piece of history, which means accepting the bad with the good, as with any work of art.
“If you see a painting in a museum by Caravaggio — a beheaded person — you’re not seeing [the beheading],” Corella said. “It’s a piece of art.”
Then, too, he says, "I have a sister who is black, and this is very close to my family.”
He plans to talk to members of Philadelphia’s Hindu community to help with cultural accuracy. At any rate, Corella said, the classic ballet is worth performing.
La Bayadère will be danced at the Academy of Music March 5-15, 2020.
Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2019-2020 season will open at the Academy of Music on Oct. 10 with a reprise of Don Quixote (through Oct. 20), the first ballet Corella revisited in 2016 during his first full season as artistic director.
Aside from Nutcracker, all of Pennsylvania Ballet’s Balanchine ballets are grouped into one program next year, “Breathtaking Balanchine” May 7-10 at the Academy of Music, which will feature the company premiere of Ballet Imperial, as well as Who Cares? and Symphony in C.
New next season will be world premieres by Garrett Smith, Juliano Nunes, and Yin Yue (the only woman represented next season), danced Nov. 7-10, 2019, at the Merriam Theater.
A new ballet by choreographer in residence Matthew Neenan will world-premiere on a program danced April 2-5, 2020 at the Merriam Theater, along with two company premieres: Clear, by Stanton Welch, artistic director of the Houston Ballet, and Suspended in Time, by Corella, corps de ballet dancer Russel Ducker, and Kirill Radev.