How Bertie’s passage to India set the scenes for La Badayère

As Marius Petipa’s La Badayère is soon to return to the Australian Ballet’s repertoire, this time in the production of the Australian choreographer, Stanton Welch, I’ve been researching the ballet’s origins and designs and re-reading A Century of Russian Ballet: Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1810-1910, edited by the American academic, Roland John Wiley.

The eyewitness accounts include the writing of Konstantin Skalkovsky and Sergei Khudekov, two critics and historians who knew Petipa well.

Skalkovsky’s review of La Badayère’s premiere in 1877 includes an intriguing insight into the original sets for the ballet. Rather than studying Indian architecture, the four designers of La Badayère relied instead on illustrations from two English magazines, the Graphic and Illustrated London News in their reports on the visit to India of the Prince of Wales, known to his family as Bertie.

Skalkovsky wrote: “Everything necessary to render the couleur locale exactly has been taken from engravings appearing in the Graphic and the Illustrated London News on the occasion of the Prince of Wales journey [in 1875/76]. As a result we see a series of scrupulously exact tableaux of the mores and costumes of the Indians, which naturally give the ballet an ethnographic interest quite exceptional and singularly fascinating”.

A Century of Russian Ballet also includes Skalkovsky’s 1890 review of Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty in which he wrote: “The new ballet’s production is extremely luxurious, the costumes – excellently drawn, partly after Doré’s illustrations to Perrault’s tales – are elegant”.

Gustave Doré illustrated many of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, and it’s believed that his illustration for Dante’s Paradiso was the inspiration for the Shades scene in La Badayère.

Sergei Khudekov, in turn, collaborated with Petipa on the libretto of La Badayère.

Scroll down to see the cover of one of the three ballet books he wrote from 1913-15.

The volumes are in the Firestone Library at Princeton University.

Click on the images for a larger version.

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