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After Hindu protest, Connecticut conservatory renames ballet & assures no stereotyping

   The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory (NBC) in Torrington (Connecticut) has renamed performance of iconic ballet “La Bayadère” and assured no stereotyping in its presentation during upcoming Graduation Performance Series (May 18-21), after Hindus protested saying “La Bayadère” “seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions”.

NBC, in an email to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who spearheaded the protest, wrote: …Our students will perform with no scenery and minimal costumes…As such, the excerpts are devoid of context and convey no story to the audience. Our performance… includes nothing that could be construed as stereotyping or orientalist depiction. As a result, and with full sensitivity to the problem of insensitive depiction of other cultures, we are comfortable with our decision to present them…we have chosen to rename the student’s work as a celebration of Petipa’s choreography. We will continue to encourage perspective, sensitivity, and awareness as we educate ourselves on current social conversations…

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement in Nevada today, thanked NBC for understanding the concerns of Hindu community, which felt that problematic ballet “La Bayadère” was just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibited 19th-century orientalist attitudes.

Rajan Zed suggested NBC Executive Director Sharon E. Dante and Artistic Director Victoria Mazzarelli to re-evaluate its systems and procedures and send its executives for cultural sensitivity training so that such an inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future.

Zed had said that a renowned ballet conservatory like NBC, whose sponsors reportedly include State of Connecticut, should not be in the business of callously promoting appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of “others”; and ridiculing entire communities.

NBC, which claims to be “committed to creating world-class artists”, should have shown some maturity before selecting a ballet like “La Bayadère” (The Temple Dancer) displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping, Rajan Zed had noted.

It was 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 appropriation of cultural motifs, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing, etc. NBC, established in 1969, could do better than this to serve the diverse area communities; Zed had stated.

Like many others, Hindus also consider ballet as one of the revered art forms which offers richness and depth. But we are well into 21st century now, and outdated “La Bayadère”, which was first presented in St. Petersburg (Russia) in 1877, is long overdue for permanent retirement from the world stage; Rajan Zed had pointed out.

The Graduation Performance Series of NBC are slated to be in-person and livestream performances from historic Warner Theatre in Torrington.

About Mahender Bansal

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