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L'Orient: Search for the Real Lakmé 

Behind the Scenes
Creative Team

"Award-winning choreographer Preeti Vasudevan is an exponent of classical Bharatanatyam creating new provocative contemporary works from the Indian tradition."

— New Music USA

2022 Development
Red Tail Residency
Preeti Vasudevan and Kamala Sankaram were selected as joint recipients of The Choreographer + Composer Residencies at Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning presented by Redtail Artist Residencies, which allowed for further development of the production including musical composition and scriptwriting. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the city council.
Preeti Vasudevan 2020_1.jpg
Preeti Vasudevan
Kamala Sankaram

A panel of judges gazes down on the beautiful bodies of five women as they strive to perform their increasingly demanding audition pieces. The bodies are brown, or black. Or non-binary. Or all the above, or none...the erotic in an explosive mixture with the exotic. So which one will be chosen for the role…?


Or...are the flesh-exposing gyrations of these aspiring performers a relic from a bygone age: the sexualized gaze, the unchallenged province of high art for so many centuries, now strictly tabù…?


These are the questions explored in L’Orient, a thrilling new dance-opera from choreographer Preeti Vasudevan, composer Kamala Sankaram, and writer/librettist Catherine FillouxTaking as its starting point Lakmé, the 1893 opera by Léo Delibes, the new work is set in the cut-throat world of reality television. A public search is on for “the real Lakmé”—a performer with the star quality to bring the hide-bound opera into the twenty-first century. A grueling series of auditions has whittled the short-list down to five...

L'orient new dev

L'Orient: Search for the Real Lakmé piece "Speaking in Pointe" at Flea Theater

Premiered November 2022 

Image Credit: Andrés Mercado, 2022

2021 Development
Works & Process Bubble Residency

Our January 2021 Works & Process bubble residency at Mount Tremper Arts, NY provided an opportunity to develop select vignettes of L’Orient that challenge the cultural displacement of exoticized subjects and characters in Western opera.


Commissioned by Works & Process at the Guggenheim this new video performance was co-produced by Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, facilitated by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division.


The Works & Process at the Guggenheim bubble residency was made possible through the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

2019 Development
Dance Lab NY Creation Grant

Early development of L'Orient was presented at Works & Process at the Guggenheim as part of the Joyce Theater Foundation / Dance Lab NY Creation Grant for Women Choreographers. This initial development was supported by the 2019 Virginia Toulmin Fellowship for Women Leaders in Dance through The Center for Ballet and the Arts, NYU.

Works in Process Residency, 2022

"Speaking in Pointe," an excerpt from L'Orient was developed and successfully premiered at The Flea Theater in November 2022 thanks to the Works & Process Residency.

"Speaking in Pointe" two worlds of dance together - ballet and bharatanatyam. Incorporating rhythmic foot techniques from Indian classical dance, this work engages with percussive sounds of Indian dance produced through ballerinas' pointe shoes, which are normally expected to remain muted. This work is also an exploration of the inner voices of ballerinas, where they make visible the stories and narrative of their complex relationship with ballet through their pointe shoes. Speaking in Pointe is part of a larger production, L’Orient - a dance-opera based on the 19th-century French opera Lakmé.

Performers: Ramona Kelley, Audrey Borst, Kara Walsh
Music: Kamala Sankaram

L'Orient: Search for the Real Lakmé at Lincoln Center Restart Stages

Performed September 2021 on THE GREEN

Image Credit: Sachyn Mital, 2021

l'orient setting scene

L'Orient Works & Process at the Guggenheim Joyce Theater Foundation/Dance Lab NY Creation Grant 

Photo credits: Robert Altman / Works & Process at the Guggenheim and Whitney Browne photography (2019)

In Délibes’ original opera, Lakmé sacrifices herself for her lover, a British officer, and her father, a Brahmin priest. She is literally a victim of both colonialism and the patriarchy. 


But how much has really changed in 2022, as the five finalists vie to re-contextualize the role, each performer competing with ever-more ferocity to sell themselves to the judges and the producer—the mysterious Durga Tyger, a force of nature, who will stop at nothing to beat her rival networks in the ratings.


This provocative work combines choreography based on the principles of classical dance—ballet and South Indian bharatanatyam—alongside contemporary street and Hip Hop moves. The choreography is brought to life through a radical soundworld, bringing together elements of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music, traditional grand opera (including themes from Délibes’ score), and the compulsive rhythms of electronic dance music. 


In the dog-eat-dog chaos of a reality show, the drama plays out in a TV studio in front of a live audience. Ms. Tyger is selling the project as a way to uncover the ultimate superwoman for the 21st century: The Real Lakmé.