gavrilushka reblogged this from thedailyballet and added:
You wrote a long post and I appreciate that, but due to lack of time (sorry!) I can’t reply with as much length (sorry!) so I’ll just get to the key points.
“The “High Brahmin,” no matter his attraction to Nikiya, would not interact with her (or maybe he would) and most definitely not ask her to become his wife, nor would he offer to give up his position.”
I agree, but this is a story. If we look at any romance or classic tale there is always a character of a high status willing to lose his powerful position for the love of someone so desirable. If we look at Giselle, Albrecht - of noble blood - would have moved mountains if he married the peasant girl and socially (in real life) would have both been subjected to rumour and even ostracized/looked down upon.
Another thing - Giselle and Swan Lake are set in Germany - would they be racist ballets too because of how they portray the German culture? It was after all written by a Russian with very little knowledge about Germany beyond lederhosen and dirndls.
"The little I know tells me that he’s the literally the top of the food chain, and she’s so undesirable I don’t really know where she would be in the system except towards the bottom."
This is false. Nikiya was a temple dancer and they had VERY high statuses in hindu society. They are very similar to geishas in a way. They were ‘married’ to deities and were worshipped and kept as virgins until they married a wealthy patron (who would have another wife). They were not housewives, but entertainers (dance, music, art - a lot like geishas). Which goes to say with your next sentence it makes it easy for Nikiya to turn down the High Brahmin because she is much desired and has many wealthy patrons to turn to, however, like all romances she loves Solor and only wants Solor.
This is also why I won’t say it’s racist - it touches on a very universal theme of love which plays on not just the social implications of the west, but also of the east.
It is outrageous that she loves Solor and will turn down the High Brahmin - she can have anyone she wants in the world, but her love for Solor is so strong that the tradition that binds her (of her marrying the best patron) is disturbed as she chooses out of love and not out of the fact the Mr Brahmin has lots of money and power. If anything, it explores the universality of love through the social system of India - you can’t argue with universality. It draws up the system quite nicely for what a ballet can manage in 2 hours - you can’t talk in a ballet, it has to be mimed and the best way for people to understand things like setting is through costume and even stereotypes if there is to be no speaking.
"…it takes from Indian culture without any respect for it, and makes it into this awful caricature of what Indian culture really is.”
I disagree. It made Nikiya, this woman who struggles with her duty as a Devadasi under the High Brahmin - to accept his offer which will be of the highest or to be with the man she loves and Nikiya is sought as the most beautiful and most desired Devadasi. If anything, it’s not a far-fetched story - dramatic? Yes, but far-fetched? No.
Seriously, have you ever watched a Bollywood film? They are A LOT like La Bayadere (I’m a huge Bollywood fan, hahahaha. :P)
I think what people often get confused into is reading into something that is just not there. I don’t think being inspired by another culture is racist, if anything I think it’s embracing the culture and going “Hey, that’s pretty interesting, I’d like to open it up to other people and show them how fascinating another culture can be.” If anything, it’s teaching people to be more appreciative, interested and fascinated by another culture.
It’s like how people say Australians are so racist because they make jokes of other countries, but if you lived in Australia you know it’s very different. The multicultural blend makes everyone feel sort of like one giant family and we’re just making fun of each other because Australian culture is multiculturalism.
Also, keep in mind that ballet was written AGES ago, back when the west was just beginning to get interested in the eastern culture and dumping a load of intricate facts on it will not be easy to digest - yes La Bayadere does not go in depth with the different aspects of Indian culture, but then again, has Swan Lake and Coppelia done so for the European culture either?
Hi! I’m sorry this too, like, a month to get back to you, but I honestly didn’t see it until just now. Firstly, thank you for calling out my lack of research and knowledge on Indian culture. Total oversight and mistake on my part, and I’m grateful to you for it. :)
You wrote a lot, but from all of this, I pulled a few main points, so I’ll address those first, and then see what else I’ve missed:
1. Ballet also is set in Germany (e.g. Swan Lake and Giselle), but doesn’t fully explore German culture, so isn’t that also racist?
In a word, no. German culture is definitely different from Russian culture, there’s no denying that. But in the grand scheme of things, they’re much more similar to each other than to Indian culture. The problem I have with La Bayadère is that the elements from Indian culture that it tries to incorporate are basically messed with, and done for the use of being exotic. Again, using a culture as an “exotic backdrop” is problematic and racist because they’re not actually paying respect to the culture. How are they not respecting the culture? By labeling it as “exotic”. I think I’m talking in circles, but I honestly don’t know how to explain it exactly.
But it is definitely different from the use of Germany as a backdrop because a) Germany isn’t being advertised as exotic, and b) even in Giselle and Swan Lake, the stories aren’t dependent on the setting. The names tell you it’s set in Germany, but if you read librettos they don’t always mention Germany. Yet La Bayadère is always, always, “omg set in India so kool u gaz!” Excuse my French.
In Giselle, the setting isn’t important. But in La Bayadère, it’s the selling factor.
And of course, the costumes, again — BARE MIDRIFF PARTY! But India isn’t a bare midriff party, as far as I know. And I have watched a Bollywood movie, thanks. Again, it’s used to sell an image of India that’s really, really incorrect and that’s disrespectful. Factor in the fact that people really don’t know a thing about India at the time, and while that seems like an excuse, to me it isn’t, exactly. Instead, it gives Europeans like Petipa the power to determine how people see India, and he just mucks it up entirely for the sake of selling his work.
Also, somehow I don’t see using Bollywood as a measure of realistic or not as entirely accurate. Especially not with that much dramatic wind.
2.Being inspired by another culture isn’t racist or disrespectful!
Not necessarily, no. La Bayadère, though, while I guess you could say is “inspired” by Indian culture, has that problem of, like, inaccurate costumes, inaccurate music, weird reimaginings of the caste system, and all that jazz. So… yeah. Not sure what to say without repeating myself.
3. It’s just a story! The ballet focuses on a universal theme of love, like other ballets, so it’s not racist.
Quite honestly, that means nothing to me. I feel like I’ve addressed this already, and if I haven’t, just let me know and I’ll try to do it.
Also, I took a really brief look into Devadasis, and I’m not going to brag, but generally my perception of events tends to be somewhat accurate (at least, I never failed an AP Lit essay for completely misunderstanding the text). But I grossly misunderstood Nikiya’s social status. Which I think, besides reflecting on my ability (or lack thereof) to understand things, also reflects on the ballet. How can you muck things up so badly that a high status dancer ends up seeming like at the bottom of the food chain?
The use of Gamzatti as a princess who, like, threatens Nikiya, and the constant, like, kowtowing that Nikiya does to literally everyone makes her seem like she’s low in status. Yet, she’s not. That most definitely is not a sign of respecting Indian culture when you completely change how the system is.
Furthermore, I was reading that Devadasis, at least historically, tend to get married to a wealthy patron, who also has a few other wives and whatnot. Solor’s a warrior. He’s also pretty high up; I mean, that’s literally the only thing I am adamant about with regard to the caste system. What made their love so forbidden?
With regard to the “take into account historical context” thing, I’ve addressed that here. :)