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‘Jungle Book Reimagined’ (review) – Akram Khan’s dance drama has classic and seasonal special written all over it…

‘Jungle Book Reimagined’ (review) – Akram Khan’s dance drama has classic and seasonal special written all over it…

It might only be April and just about to close on its week-long run at The Curve in Leicester but this is a genre-expanding production which could well become a classic…

GRAND and visually memorable, Akram Khan’s ‘Jungle Book Reimagined’ is a triumph, if the audience reaction to it on Thursday night (April 7) was anything to go by – a prolonged standing ovation and much cheering.

Rudyard Kipling’s classic story of Mowgli is merely the starting point for choreographer and dancer Khan, who has firmly established himself as an international voice of considerable power. This show with one more scheduled two-night run in the UK – in Birmingham – goes on a global tour shortly (see listing details below).

Creating this new two-hour or so dance drama, with writer Tariq Jordan, Khan has relocated Mowgli’s story to the near future – sometime ten years or so forward.

The world is suffering from severe flooding and communities are constantly being told to move to higher ground.

Khan changes Mowgli to a young girl and along with her mother, they board a tiny raft to escape the rising tides.

Using extensive large screen projection and animation, this part sees our digital Mowgli tumble into the waters.

She is initially rescued by a wolf pack led by Raksha and Rama but they are wary and it is only after Akela, a dog, and the leader of the animals on the island, that Mowgli is accepted – her role is to help the animals find food on a largely deserted city-town like landscape.

It is with Akela that she befriends Bagheera who is an Albino panther and perhaps, Mowgli’s most entertaining and clever friend. When Bagheera is about, there is wisdom and humour and on the night, the energy of this dancer* was particularly captivating.

It isn’t long before there is trouble and Mowgli finds herself captured by the Bandar-log monkeys. They are monkeys who have been experimented on and exist in a sort of netherworld of primates – neither human nor monkey – they speak and at one point utter banal political slogans – the subtext perhaps is clear. They seek power and enlist Mowgli to their enterprise – and of course they want to be like him/her!

There are a familiar cast of characters from any version of ‘Jungle Book’ you care to remember – Khan gives them a distinct identity.

Mostly you are seduced by the animation and the whole theatre. The music too is wonderful: by composer – Jocelyn Pook; there is range and variety – and vocal sections which add to the considerable dialogue.

The dance too, as conceived by Khan and creative associate-coach Mavin Khoo, is affecting, dynamic and without it, this production of ‘Jungle Book’ would be far less than the sum of its parts.

It all hangs together very well – but perhaps the first part when you are first introduced to Mowgli’s own netherworld – between humans and animals – and for us the dichotomy of the animation and the realities of bodies on a stage in a more traditional looking drama – are more enthralling and magical.

It’s a world both of beauty and horror – in what has happened to an earth that without us might be yet more beautiful still – Khan poses this urgent question.

For adults, there are familiar Khan themes, the body – its own dislocation and alienation; survival in an increasingly hostile environment – and one which we have solely created; the world between Animals and Man and how discordant that relationship has become.

For this critic, perhaps the only slight disappointment in terms of graphic representation was the rock python, Kaa – she seemed to be represented by two cardboard boxes with holes for eyes.

Considering the rich and imaginative detail of the other animation, this seemed somewhat below par – its body was represented by other dancers with carboard boxes over the heads. Its movements were not as synchronised as everything else.

She doesn’t play a huge role and it is only a minor point in what is an enchanting, awe-inspiring spectacle with much to recommend it.

*Note: The dancers are uncredited as their characters – they probably rotate – but also deserve huge praise – in alphabetical order as in programme – Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis-Dunn, Thomasin Gülgeç, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Pui Yung Shum, Fukkio Takase, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang, and Luke Watson.

ACV rating: ****½ (out of five)

Rehearsal Pictures: ©AkramKhanCompany and by Ambra Vernuccio

One performance – The Curve, Leicester Rutland Street Leicester LE1 1SB (Suitable for ages 8 and above)
More info/Book:

Birmingham – April 29 & 30 – The Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Southside, Birmingham, B5 4TB

Akram Khan Company (on tour internationally) : ‘Jungle Book – Reimagined’

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture