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Dance History

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The objective of this research paper is to analyze Marius Petipa’s work, La Bayadere, through the Historical lens of Orientalism. This choice stems from my personal interest in how historical and economical development affected a culture’s perspective of another. La Bayadere is set in India however it is evident that the movements and images performed in this ballet piece are not based on ethnographic knowledge from experience and memory but in fact on fantasy and assumptions of the Orient. In order to fully contextualize this piece and explore the oddities presented in Petipa’s India, I will need to examine aspects of the Indian culture portrayed in La Bayadere, with an emphasis on clothing, dance, art and music of the 19th century. In order to delve deeper into this topic, Marius Petipa’s background and choreographic process must be heavily explored as well as the sources of influence for his choreographies to be able to understand where his information from India was coming from. For this purpose, his personal research and intentions must be explored.

My work process will consist of initially viewing this piece multiple times to become familiar with any references made to the Indian culture in its entirety. Once I am familiar with these allusions, I will proceed to explore the validity of these references in the production including the music by Ludwig Minkus, Petipa’s choreography and costume and set design to finally identify the gap between the European construction and the Oriental reality. I intend to search for scholarly articles that attempt to analyze this ballet preferably dissecting the presence of the Indian culture in order to supplement my analysis. Also, I intend on performing a close read on Edward Said’s Orientalism, in which he explores the mindsets of European writers throughout history and their creation of an imagined Middle East to better understand the reasons for such mutation of the Indian culture.

This investigation will support the argument that the India illustrated by Petipa and most of the twentieth century’s notions about Eastern dance came not from the Orient but from a Western reconstruction. It is discernible that the representation seldom coincides with reality and I wish to explore to what extent are the portrayals realistic and to what extent are they a reflection of European ethos and an invention of a romantic, exotic escapade. I also wish to explore if Westerners depicted the East in such way as a method to contain it for political reasons such as propaganda for colonialism or if they were far more interested in fashioning grand entertainments with what they believed to be fascinating and seductive.

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