Daily: Hindu leader protests 'culturally insensitive' Tallinn ballet

The Estonia Theater, home of the National Opera and Ballet in Tallinn.
The Estonia Theater, home of the National Opera and Ballet in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A production of the Ludwig Minkus ballet 'La Bayadère' scheduled to take place next year at the Estonian Theater in Tallinn, home of the National Opera (Rahvusooper), has met with opposition by a noted Hindu cleric, who says the composition and its performance mocks that faith, eastern religion and tradition in general, and deals in stereotypes.

Rajan Zed, a U.S.-based Hindu leader and prominent figure in interfaith relations, said Monday that the National Opera, which he says is taxpayer-funded, should not mock or culturally misappropriate from other cultures, which he says "La Bayadère" does, Postimees reported (link in Estonian).

Zed said that: "It is very irresponsible for the National Opera to include in the program a ballet which has been charged with of appropriating and patronizing oriental stereotypes," adding that the ballet, composed in 1877 and whose international performance Zed's organization has protested before, has within it offensive and superficial caricatures, and belongs to a by-gone era.

Rajan Zed. Source: Rajan Zed/Universal Society of Hinduism

Creative director at the National Opera Arvo Volmer rejected these claims, saying that: "Certainly, the intention ... was not to discriminate against or denigrate anyone, but rather to elevate and highlight them by artistic means," adding that the opera house has been putting on "La Bayadère" since 2013, and is careful not to offend or carry potentially racist overtones, and keeps the cultural and historic context in mind.

In some past performances internationally, "La Bayadère", which, if it goes ahead, will hit the stage in Tallinn next April, child performers have worn blackface; another spokesperson, Phil Chan, of the organization Final Bow for Yellowface, which aims to remove East Asian stereotypes from ballet, says there is nothing to connect "La Bayadère" either to India or to Asia as a whole, as it is simply a western-created facsimile of Indian culture, aimed at homogenous western audiences.

The full Postimees piece (in Estonian) is here.

Modern productions of "La Bayadère"which tells the story of Nikiya and the warrior Solor, who have sworn eternal fidelity to one another, are based on a Soviet production by the Kirov Ballet, from 1941.

Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917) was a Jewish-Austrian composer who worked as the official Composer of Ballet Music to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

In 2007, Rajan Zed gave the first-ever Hindu prayer to be offered officially at the U.S. Senate, though this was interrupted by protesting Christians who had entered the Capitol.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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