Norwegian National Ballet refuses to drop insensitive ballet “La Bayadère”: Hindus to appeal PM Støre

Norwegian National Opera & Ballet has refused to discard its upcoming production of “La Bayadère”; scheduled for March 23-April 07, 2022 in Oslo; which protesting Hindus feel seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions and is culturally insensitive.

“We do not plan to cancel the production”, Norwegian National Opera & Ballet (Den Norske Opera & Ballett) Communications Director Kenneth Fredstie wrote to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who spearheaded the protest. Fredstie, however, admitted in the email that “La Bayadère” features “fascination with, but also ignorance of, other cultures”.

Responding to Zed (who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism), Norwegian Ministry of Culture and Equality, which appoints the board of Norwegian National Opera & Ballet; has also declined to intervene, citing “artistic freedom”.

We plan to appeal to Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre as it is simply unfair, unethical and inappropriate to spend taxpayer’s money on caricaturing “other” cultures; Rajan Zed points out in a statement in Nevada (USA) today.

We strongly felt that taxpayer funded Norwegian National Opera & Ballet; which was “wholly-owned by the Norwegian state”; should not be in the business of callously promoting appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of “others”; and ridiculing entire communities; Zed said.

Rajan Zed indicated that this deeply problematic ballet was just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibited 19th-century orientalist attitudes.

Zed further said that Norwegian National Ballet, which claims to be “the only classical ballet company in Norway”, 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.

It was highly irresponsible for Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, whose “strategy” stated—”We will create and present operas and ballets which make an impact”; 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. Norwegian National Opera & Ballet could do better than this to serve its diverse stakeholders; Rajan Zed stated.

The Norwegian Ministry of Culture and Equality and its Minister Anette Trettebergstuen should also take its areas of responsibility—culture, equality and discrimination—more seriously, and have better understanding of the feelings of “others” to do the job more effectively. Is not the issue of cultural stereotyping in “La Bayadère” visible to Trettebergstuen? Zed asked.

Rajan Zed suggested Norwegian National Opera & Ballet CEO Geir Bergkastet, Board Chairperson Anne Carine Tanum, Ballet Artistic Director Ingrid Lorentzen to re-evaluate its systems and procedures and send its executives for cultural sensitivity training so that such inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future.

Moreover; Norwegian National Opera & Ballet collaborators like Norsk Tipping, FINN, OBOS, Red Bull should rethink their relationship with it if it continued with ballets like “La Bayadère”, which trivialized traditions of “others”; Zed added.

Like many others, Hindus also consider ballet as one of the revered art forms which offers richness and depth. But we are well into the 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 notes.

Description of “La Bayadère” on Norwegian National Opera & Ballet website included: “ballet houses around the world are currently engaging in dialogue about whether this classic still deserves a rightful place in the repertoire”.

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