Forget the dinky rubber snake prop that “bites” Nikiya in traditional productions of La Bayadère: Stanton Welch’s re-imagination of the classic ballet, which Houston Ballet will premiere this February, features not one but five varieties of live (non-venomous) snakes! “Snakes are so provocative and full of innuendo,” says Welch of his unorthodox choice.
Splashy Bollywood touches will also spice up the new production. “I've always loved the way the actors break out into dance in Bollywood films,” says Welch, who caught up on both traditional and western Bollywood movies to prepare. “The show will have the films’ color, kick and sparkle.” Expect to see plenty of bare midriffs, beaded bra tops, transparent harem pants and brilliantly-hued saris onstage.
Welch hopes that his Bayaère will flesh out the ballet’s characters so that they make more sense to 21st-century balletgoers. “The story has been almost forgotten,” he says. “I want to develop Nikiya and Solor's relationship.” And a scene featuring a major girl fight between leads Nikiya and Gamzatti will resonate with today’s soap opera-saturated audiences. “You don't see two women fighting over a man much in ballet,” Welch quips.
The updated Bayadère “is about acknowledging the past and the future at the same time,” Welch says. “We don't want to be a museum company. Our greatest years are still coming.” —Nancy Wozny