Rajan Zed, a leading Hindu cleric and a well-known leader in interfaith relations, says that the Paris Opera Ballet should not be “callously promoting the appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of ‘others’ and ridiculing entire communities” in the ballet La Bayadère, saying it “seriously trivialises Eastern religious and other traditions”.
Zed is an Indian immigrant and now an American citizen. In 2008 he was invited by the President of European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering, for a meeting to promote interfaith dialogue and discuss Hindu issues. He said,
This deeply problematic ballet is just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibits 19th-century orientalist attitudes. Ballet companies should show some maturity before selecting a ballet like La Bayadère” displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping.
It is highly irresponsible for a prestigious national organization to continue to include in its repertoire such a ballet which has been blamed for patronising a flawed mishmash of orientalist stereotypes, dehumanizing cultural portrayal and misrepresentation, offensive and degrading elements, needless appropriation of cultural motifs, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing, etc.
He has issued statements aimed at other organisations including the University of North Carolina School of the Arts that has La Bayadère in its upcoming Spring Dance event, and the Korean National Ballet, which begins performances of the ballet tonight. Last year he made similar statements criticising Houston Ballet and The Royal Ballet for staging the same ballet. He said that the Paris Operas Ballet ought to “re-evaluate its systems and procedures and send their executives for cultural sensitivity training so that such inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future” and added that corporate backers, such as Rolex, should “re-think before sponsoring such ballets”.
Nikolaj Hübbe’s production of the ballet for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2002 tried to modify the story to appease the critics with British aristocrats in colonial India being Solor and Gamzatti, and instead of the Golden Idol he had a Blue God, like the Hindu god Shiva. When Benjamin Millepied was at the Paris Opera Ballet he took the black face makeup off the students in la danse de négrillons, and called it, simply, a children’s dance.
Jean-Christophe Maillot, currently the artistic director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, has warned,
We know how to be politically correct, but we’re dying from that. I take the risk of [people] not understanding, being shocked by what I put on stage. If we destroy that freedom, I think it’s very dangerous.
Zed said that Hindus consider ballet as an art form to revere being one that offers “richness and depth”.
But we are well into the 21st century now, and outdated La Bayadère, which was first presented in St. Petersburg in 1877, is long overdue for permanent retirement from the world stage, including from Opéra National de Paris.