Bayadere – The Ninth Life (2015)

Electronics with Piano & Percussion // (57 mins)
Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh // [Commissioned by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company for the Royal Opera House, London]
**Nominated for British Composer Awards 2015**

In March 2015, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance premiered a new theatre work, Bayadère – The Ninth Life, commissioned by the Royal Ballet Studio Programme and inspired by the ballet La Bayadère.

Drawing on Marius Petipa’s original choreography and the stories of the first real ‘temple dancers’ to visit Europe, joined by composer Gabriel Prokofiev, Shobana Jeyasingh illuminates the West’s fascination with the myth of the Orient. She examines how this legacy has directly affected the Indian diaspora today, and how the story of La Bayadère relates to modern fantasies of both East and West.

Composer’s Note

The Minkus score for the original Bayadere has of course been a very big influence on the music I have created for this work. In fact most of the music has actually been created from a recording of the Minkus score (provided courtesy of Capriccio Records). I have frequently used the Minkus as an ‘electroacoustic’ sound-source and manipulated and processed it to create new musical material that is very far from the original Minkus, but at other times I have allowed familiar motifs and harmonies from the Minkus to emerge.

I found that certain time-stretching processes remarkably gave some of the Minkus motifs a quasi Indian sound, so that I was taking Minkus’s 19th century attempts at Indian-inspired music and taking this quasi-indian approach one step deeper – further exploring the idea of how one culture perceives, and tries to imitate another.

In the first Act we see a young man creating a blog on his iPad about a performance of the original Bayadere that he just saw, and so the music has a very functional role here, giving little digital snippets from the Minkus, that sound as if they have been re-worked for a little videos on a blog. Placed alongside background noise recorded from an inner-city London flat, and the clicks of the iPad we feel as if we are in the young bloggers bedroom.

But he is gradually and magically drawn into the 19th century of Minkus, Petit Pas and Theophile Gaultier, and gradually the music fills the theatre – with a stretched harmony from the famous Kingdom of the Shades scene – an important sonic theme of this work.

For the second Act, in order to explore the writings and thoughts of 19th century French dance critic, Theophile Gaultier, I turned to more traditional orchestration. So I worked with piano, orchestral percussion, and strings. To help express Gaultiers orientalist fantasies of India, I created a “faux-indian piano” (nicked-named the ‘iPiano’). By removing the attack of each piano note I was able to create a sound surprising reminiscent to the Tambura (Indian drone instrument), but able to play more complex harmonies, and this instrument plays-out Gaultiers fantasies of the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Bayaderes’. As Act 2 progresses, and the character of the Bayadere gains more confidence, South Indian instruments enter the mix, Indian Flute, Veena, Mringangam, Chenda, and climaxing with vocal percussion, known as ‘Jathis’, performed by dancer Sooraj Subramaniam.

The 3rd Act, takes us away from the historical context and into a modern contemporary dance take on The Kingdom of The Shades, and ideas of a modern, cosmopolitan dance utopia, and here the music is entirely created from only the Minkus ‘Kingdon of the Shades’ recording, but reworked with a pulsing, granular effect, creating a much more modern, post-minimalist style.

The creative process for this project has been particularly challenging. The project has continually evolved over the last 3 months. Shobana is continually searching and exploring her ideas for the work, so the approach for a scene might change, or structures moves around. Therefore, rather than providing a finished score to which Shobana would choreograph to at the beginning of the choreographic process, I have been reacting to developments in the choreography and structure, and I’ve creating, editing and tweaking music continually. With final changes being made right up to the final rehearsals last week!

© Gabriel Prokofiev, March 2015


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