200 years after Petipa’s birth, Ratmansky prepares for a new Bayadère

To mark the 200 years since the birth of Marius Petipa, the choreographer was celebrated with a memorial plaque at the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg and a gala concert at the Mariinsky Theatre.

That’s where so many Petipa ballets premiered in the late 19th century – Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Pharaoh’s Daughter, Harlequinade (also known as Les Millions d’Arléquin), Raymonda and, in 1900, Petipa’s final revival of La Bayadère. (The premiere was at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, St Petersburg, in 1877).

Elsewhere, the anniversary wasn’t acknowledged by many companies except for American Ballet Theatre where the artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky, reconstructed Harlequinade for the company.

ABT’s spring season also included productions of Swan Lake, (choreographed by Kevin McKenzie, after Petipa), Don Quixote (after Petipa) and La Bayadère (choreographed by Natalia Makarova, after Petipa).

Ratmansky has a passion for reconstructing 19th century ballets, including Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake and he’s now in the process of reconstructing La Bayadère for the Staatsballett in Berlin in November.

In an interview with Ratmansky in 2013 he told me “I like producing the choreographies of the old masters. You can learn a lot from doing it. It’s like the best school for choreography”.

Just as he did with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty he will have researched in detail the history of La Bayadère, Petipa himself and the way the settings depicted India.

As most reconstructions are controversial it’s likely that Ratmansky’s new Bayadère, and the designs by Jérôme Kaplan, will be analysed in detail by historians and critics.

Some will refer to the original inspiration for the sets, the sketches of the Prince of Wales visit to India in 1865/67 published in The Illustrated London News and the Graphic in England.

Audiences often ask whether they will be watching the ‘real’ or ‘traditional’ ballet, whether it’s Swan Lake or any other classic, but, in most cases the original ballet has been reinvented many times.

If the original designers of La Bayadère -there were five of them – could base their designs on the Prince of Wales’ visit to India, surely any later designer could come up with his or her version of ancient India and accept that in this case, cultural appropriation is a given.

After all, while the setting was India, Petipa’s choreography was mostly based on classical ballet and the women wore tutus as well jewelled bra tops and harem pants.

Kaplan’s set designs are playful – the elephant is on wheels – but judging from the images I’ve seen so far, all of them refer in some way to the first La Bayadère in 1877.

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La Bayadère, Alexei Ratmansky, Act I, Scene 1, Ritual of Fire, design, Jérôme Kaplan

La Bayadère, Alexei Ratmansky, Act II, Scene 3 – Death of the Bayadère, design, Jérôme Kaplan

La Bayadère panorama, 1900

The destruction of the temple, La Bayadère, Act 4, 1877

La Bayadère, Alexei Ratmansky, Act IV, Scene 8 – Apotheosis, design, Jérôme Kaplan

Petipa’s memorial plaque, 2018

Entry of the Prince of Wales into a city in India,1876, The Illustrated London News