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Hindu Group Wants Houston Ballet To Drop Ballet ‘La Bayadère’, Says It’s ‘Culturally Insensitive’

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A US-based Hindu group is urging the Houston Ballet to withdraw “La Bayadère” from its “2020-2021 Season”, which it feels seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions. 

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, said that the Houston Ballet, the nation’s fifth largest ballet company which claims to be an “anti-racist organization”, should not be in the business of callously promoting appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of “others”; and ridiculing entire communities. 

La Bayadère (“The Temple Dancer”) is a ballet, originally staged in four acts and seven tableaux by French choreographer Marius Petipa to the music of Ludwig Minkus. La Bayadère was first presented by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1877. From the first performance the ballet was universally hailed by contemporary critics as one of the choreographer Petipa’s supreme masterpieces.

La Bayadère has been performed by the American Ballet Theatre, and was the first full-length production to find a permanent place in the repertories of western ballet troupes, having been staged by several theaters throughout the world.

But according to Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, La Bayadère is a deeply problematic ballet that is a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibits 19th-century orientalist attitudes. He urged the non-profit Houston Ballet to apologize for such an inappropriate selection. 

Houston Ballet, with sponsors like United Airlines and Houston Methodist, should have shown some maturity before selecting a ballet like “La Bayadère” displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping, Rajan Zed said. 

According to Zed, it was highly irresponsible for a community organization to choose such a ballet which had been blamed for patronizing flawed mishmash of orientalist stereotypes, dehumanizing cultural portrayal and misrepresentation, offensive and degrading elements, needless cultural appropriation, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing, etc. Houston Ballet could do better than this to serve the diverse Houston communities, Zed said. 

Zed also urged Houston Ballet Trustees Chair S. Shawn Stephens, Executive Director James Nelson and Artistic Director Stanton Welch to re-evaluate its systems and procedures so that such an inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future. In addition, all Houston Ballet employees should be sent for cultural sensitivity training, Zed said. 

Moreover, organizations like Chevron (the human energy company) and The Wortham Foundation should re-think before sponsoring such ballets, Zed added.  

“La Bayadère” (“The Temple Dancer”) is scheduled for February 25-March 07, 2021 and claims to feature “lavish scenery and costumes” and “mesmerizing classical performances”.

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