In his contemporary interpretation of the famous La Bayadère, the Argentinian choreographer Daniel Proietto examines the colonialist view of the Far East that dominates this 19th-century Russian fairytale. He links this with philosophies from Indian culture and the richness of the Indian cultural heritage.
The choreographer creates a completely contemporary reading based on his fascination for the harmony that plays a central role in Marius Petipa’s original ballet. Proietto studied Petipa’s original source material, namely Gustave Doré’sillustrations for Dante's Divina Commedia.
The twisted sculpted bodies of the damned souls inspired Proietto’s Harmony of Chaos, the final act in RASA.
Daniel Proietto reinterprets the tradition of the Indian devadasi, the original temple dancers (or bayadères) and the movement idiom of their sacred dances. The anchor point of his vision lies in Indian art philosophy and, in particular, the age-old ambiguous concept of rasa, that indicates an overpowering experience of a work of art that brings about the manifestation of a universal self-image, attained by letting go of the ego.
Interested in how the human and the divine can be linked within the multicultural landscape of the world today, Proietto in his choreography and Mikael Karlsson in his new score seek the universal essence that connects East and West.
RASA, is a 3 act dance, theatre and musical piece, premiered as the creation of Ballet Flanders 50th anniversary season. It received a nomination to the Fedora Van Cleef & Arpels Prize and has been chosen as one of the best productions of the year by Dance Europe.
Cover and gallery photos by Filip Van Roe
Concept, Choreography, Libretto and Staging: Daniel Proietto
Co-choreography: Lee-Yuan Tu
Music: Mikael Karlsson
Text and Performance advice: Andrew Wale
Set: Nicolás Boni
Costumes: Tamae Hirokawa
Lighting and video: Martin Flack
Conductor: Benjamin Haemhouts
Artistic advice: Shantala Shivalingappa
Guest singer: Guido Belcanto
Guest dancer: Osiel Gouneo
Orchestration: Michael P. Atkinson
Dramaturgy: Koen Bollen
Orchestra: Casco Phil
Created with the dancers of Ballet Flanders
Daniel Proietto - About RASA
Preview Trailer RASA
Daniel Proietto - About RASA
Mikael Karlsson - About RASA
Prop Creation for RASA
The ballet world argues about whether classics like "Raymonda" or "Le Corsaire" should not finally be decolonized. Daniel Proietto shows with his piece "Rasa" how this could work.
The waves hit high, the sound derailed into poison: the ballet world has recently been arguing more and more about whether classics like "Raymonda" or "Le Corsaire" need to be reworked with the post-colonial brush. Entire works or individual acts are affected, for example the divertissement from Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker". Its danced chinoiserie has not only delighted children's eyes for generations, but also pours out a surprise bag full of clichés. Chinese people, the audience learns, always move in mini-steps, spread their index fingers in the air and jump as high as circus acrobats. A grotesquely distorted Asian study, often presented by Russians or Europeans painted yellow. If everything doesn't work anymore, think advocates of the politically correct zeitgeist. They would like to banish the legacy of the 19th century, as far as it is still played in the outlines of the original, in the depots. But what does the replacement look like?
The red stalls in Antwerp's Stadsschouwburg are almost on their knees, worn out by numerous consumers of brisk entertainment goods. First of all, the latest project of the Royal Flanders Ballet seems to fit into this house program pretty seamlessly: Daniel Proietto's production "Rasa" turns out to be extremely entertaining and catchy - yes, what actually? For three hours and three acts, you can visit a hybrid that can best be classified as a balletical: a revamped version of the classic ballet "La Bayadère" tailored for 2020.
The piece, which premiered in 1877, is a pillar of the repertoire and was recently painstakingly reconstructed at the Berlin State Ballet. Its creator was the choreographer Marius Petipa, who also launched the Tchaikovsky bestsellers in the foothills of the tsarist empire. Meanwhile, the snappy score for "La Bayadère" comes from Ludwig Minkus, who composed an earwig parade of the finest quality. The love story between Nikia and Solor is negotiated - she is a temple dancer, he a warrior whom the almighty Rajah has determined to marry his daughter Gamzatti. From which a jealous drama grows in which Nikia dies. From then on she haunts Solors dreams until an earthquake ruins the royal wedding and the lovers go to heaven - couple apotheosis over rubble. So much for the fairy tale based in India, which Petipa staged in an effective and splendid way. Of course he knew the subcontinent as well as Karl May knew the prairie, namely not at all. "La Bayadère" is nothing more than an exotic fantasy, a hidden object of various stereotypes. But do you have to dispose of the original version and replace it with a remake?
The piece follows the strategy of disenchantment and it becomes quite enchanting in the process.
This is exactly what Daniel Proietto is trying to do with the Flanders Ballet, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Sanskrit title "RASA” means something like "catharsis" and sums up what the almost forty-year-old Argentinean is all about: Our view of "La Bayadère" should be purified, purified and readjusted.
So no temple, no palace, no trace of ethno glamour.
Nikia becomes Nicky, a transgender boy from the Untouchables caste, while Solor and Gamzatti belong to the Jeunesse doree from Mumbai or Moscow. The Rajah has completely disappeared into post-colonial oblivion, in his place appears the woman who ruled over India and never set foot in it: Queen Victoria haunted the dance frenzy in a wheelchair, as a sergeant major of the Empire and permanently stinking Mater dolorosa in widowhood.
A cunning chess move, because the surreal appearance of the historical figure, who never took her own territory into view, also disguises Petipa's Indian fantasy land as a fake, as a colonial construct. The second key scene that Proietto redefines and thus brings to fame is the so-called "Kingdom of the Shadows", usually a serpentine show for three to four dozen white veiled dancers. Proietto instead puts the ensemble in full-body suits home, over which black garlands meander. The sewn-on tattoos refer to the fetishization of the ballerina in the 19th century, its paradoxical status as on the one hand superior and socially respected creature.
To the smallest detail, "Rasa" follows this strategy of disenchantment and the evening becomes even more enchanting.
The historicization of the ballet matters, its disposal would be a crime.
The members of the Flanders Ballet dance, sing and speak and triumph as all-rounder, performing all the lyrics delivered live by Andrew Wale and putting the stamp of art on Proietto's Bollywood style mix. Because choreography clearly has a bias in the direction of musicals, however, it unleashes a further axis of sight: What we admire today as classical ballet has long been a form of lofty entertainment for aristocrats and bourgeois elites.
Just like other guardians of historical treasures, such as museums or libraries, the ballet must critically evaluate its heritage. A complete revision like "RASA" is best suited for this, as it sets today's accents and illuminates the brand of the template. The audience will therefore not love "La Bayadère" any less, but in the future it is possible they understand it better."
"Daniel Proietto’s RASA – a deconstruction of the 19th-century ballet, La Bayadère – is dance theatre on an epic, operatic scale: a spectacular clutter of ideas with periods of ingenuity and flair. The ballet is often beautiful, particularly in the understated softness of Proietto’s duets, but dance is but a flavour, embellishing the mix of spoken text, song and physical theatre that mostly constitutes the work.
When premiered in St Petersburg, in 1877, Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère was hailed as the choreographer’s masterpiece, partly due to its elaborate stage effects and lavish décor (it took Petipa six months to complete the staging). Proietto has brought 21st-century technology to bear with similar spectacle on his deconstructed narrative. His reimagined Kingdom of the Shades is inspirational and thoroughly absorbing, with projected silhouettes on a front scrim “dancing” alongside and seemingly amongst the live figures behind the curtain.
In place of the temple dancer, Nicky (Mikio Kato) is a young transsexual – possibly a sex worker – who is transitioning to female: that surgical intervention comes in a seedy clinic at the end of the first act, represented with graphic physicality that somehow segues into a kind of Busby Berkeley dance number! Of course, there is also a Gamzatti (Nicha Rodboon) but instead of a Rajah to insist on his daughter’s marriage to Solor, this command comes from none other than Queen Victoria (or, at least, the Empress of India’s long-departed spirit). Wheeled around by her page, Zoë Ashe-Browne’s Victoria is a manic creation that makes Olivia Colman’s portrayal of another Queen in The Favourite appear restrained. Her sentences are interrupted by sudden, strident laughter as she barks instructions or calls in anguish for her Abdul (“My Munshi”), John Brown and Albert. Dominic Harrison plays her son, Bertie (Edward VII) – also now presumably a spirit – performing a long, slow and fluid duet, dressed in a white smock, which reminded me of Proietto’s own close movement control.
Three sexy, robotic and inept nurses (Anaïs De Caster, Nicola Wills and Morgana Cappellari) wearing ferocious stiletto heels, brought a sense of playfulness, regularly bumping into each other; and further humour came via the surreal presence of a Japanese tourist (Ruka Nakagawa) obsessively taking photos while asking her subjects to say Japanese words in place of “cheese” (“say Kawasaki, Sushi etc”). These dancers are remarkably comfortable with spoken text and possess a consistently strong sense of theatre.
The first act was a frenetic plethora of ideas but the second and third acts were magical. Nicolás Boni’s multi-faceted set design allowed for many interpretations including an arresting finale of candles – lit by the poor – floating on a large pool of water, which also provided a new platform for much splashing about in the pursuit of dance.
The Royal Ballet of Flanders celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2019, having merged with the opera company five years’ previously. Here, at the tail end of those Golden Jubilee celebrations, RASA brings both opera and ballet together in a work that provides much food for thought; a veritable banquet of ideas that enlighten, amuse, rankle and bemuse; giving further credence to this young Argentine choreographer’s credentials as the new enfant terrible of modern ballet."
"The bests performances of 2020
Number 3. Rasa - Opera Ballet Flanders
An astonishing shadow and light show. Petipa's world-famous 'dance of the shadow' receives a beautiful contemporary ode.
In an elegant movement, Proietto pays tribute to the future of ballet, where the movement language is freer, less gender-bound and therefore richer. With "Rasa" he is taking a particularly important step in the evolution of Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, and of the ballet world."
"With his critical interpretation of "La Bayadère" the young choreographer Daniel Proietto is finally ushering Ballet Flanders into the 21st century.
The reference to La Bayadère in the title of this new ballet production may have been a strategic move to convince conservative subscribers. Because "RASA" (after La Bayadère) has very little to do with Marius Petipa's oriental classic from 1877. The romantic ballet about the futile love between the temple dancer "Nikiya" and the warrior "Solor" is set in British India and is today under fire for its exoticism. Yet the Bolshoi Ballet refuses to stop with blackface.
Daniel Proietto makes colonialism and the fight against social and gender inequality the content of his adaptation. "Nikiya" becomes "Nicky", a street boy struggling with his gender identity. He dies on the operating table during his transition. Daniel Domenech portrays the trans woman in an engaging way. Cuban dancer Osiel Gouneo was invited to play the role of "Solor". And "Queen Victoria" is the grotesque jester in this love story.
On paper it sounds as if the choreographer wants to make an anti-version of a politically incorrect canon piece that links up with as many current debates as possible, but "RASA" transcends that through his humor, lived performances and multi-layered themes, which connect the political, spiritual and existential.
Proietto takes the dancers out of their comfort zone and lets them sing and act convincingly.
The duet between "Solor" and "Nicky"'s shadow is moving tenderness. Here, Proietto shows how much he feels with the theme. He never lets spectacle take precedence over what he wants to say. Together with Mikael Karlsson's fresh new music score, it is a relief in a ballet world that likes to be burdened by the urge to show off.
"RASA" is thus far the best example of the ballet company 3.0 envisioned by artistic director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. It is engaged, contemporary but aware of its history, and eclectic. With this mix of cartoonesque dance theatre, Broadway musical and intercultural ballet, Proietto has created an honest debut.
"A journey through multiple spatial and temporal dimensions, between past, present and future, between reality and imagination, between reward and damnation. Yesterday's music covered with today's sensitivity and technology. This is "RASA".
The project is presented in such an original form as to make you forget the reference work: if it were not for the names and part of the plot, it could very well represent a story in itself.
The famous dance of the shadows is re-proposed here in the form of holograms that dance in symbiosis and in parallel with the dance troupe, creating a unique and spectacular mix: an unforgettable moment.
Matt Foley plays "The Faker" confirms his multifaceted talent by singing, dancing and acting with naturalness and skill and the charming and charismatic Osiel Gouneo performs in the role of "Solor".
Challenges colonialism and heteronormativity
"RASA", the innovation of "La Bayadère" tries to challenge the original colonial history and put it in a current socio-political context.
It is worth questioning whether a Western ballet company in the 21st century can dress in a sari, wear a turban and mix expressions such as Hindu priests and Buddha statues, because it is based on 100-year-old stereotypes. No matter how unpleasant the questions are, they must be asked to deal with India's neo-colonialist state, in this context the expression in ballet.
In the performance, "RASA", the temple dancer "Nikiya" is trans and is called "Nikki". Instead of dying from poisoning from a snake bite, she dies from complications in a gender reassignment operation. The dancers explore heteronormative gender ideals, dancing to 1950's music with movements that allude to domestic violence. The Raja has been replaced by Queen Victoria, as a reminder that British colonisation of India was essential to the development of this ballet.
Choreographer, Daniel Proietto, who himself has an Argentine background, says at one point in the performance that "in many ways, the lives of us in the south are still determined by Europe". He himself has gone to India and studied the world's oldest martial art, "Kalaripayattu", to incorporate it into the narrative of "Solor" as a warrior and make the show more authentic. He has also hired Indian "Kudhipuchi" dancer Shantala Shivalingappa as artistic advisor. The increased understanding of Indian culture represented by those who are a part of it, adds a lot to the innovation where the original misses a whole range of key things. Decentralising the dominant perspective and highlighting the marginalised voices is an essential part of the decolonization project. It is the only way to even out the skewed distribution of power.
A far less lavish performance makes the themes Proietto wants to highlight clearer; namely, an upheaval of ancient hierarchies linked to colonialism, gender roles, heteronormativity and caste system. Decolonization is demanding work, but necessary for a real and not just symbolic, equal world society.
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