Director/Choreographer: Akram Khan – Creative Associate/Coach: Mavin Khoo
Tariq Jordan – Composer: Jocelyn Pook – Sound designer: Gareth Fry
Designer: Michael Hulls – Visual Stage Designer – Miriam Buether
Direction and Director of Animation: Adam Smith
of Video Design: Nick Hillell
Theatre Centre: Feb 2nd and 3rd February 2024
on 3rd February reviewed by BILL STEPHENS
climate change wiped away the world as we know it leaving animals to rule what
This is the
grim proposition at the heart of Akram Khan’s stunning new creation “Jungle
Book Reimagined” which had its Australian premiere in the Canberra Theatre this
week ahead of seasons in Perth, Wellington NZ, Singapore and Adelaide.
choreographer, Akram Khan has built an International reputation for his innovative
dance creations, and while he has based this work on Rudyard Kipling’s 130
year-old literary classic, Khan is adamant that this work is not for children
or adults, but for everyone.
renowned for using classics as the basis for his works, but his connection with
Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” is more personal. As a young boy he played the role
of Mowgli in an Indian dance production. In this production Mowgli is a girl
played by Jan Mikaela Villanueva.
other roles, and there are many, are performed
by Maya Balam Meyong, Tom Davis-Dunn, Hector Ferrer, Harry Theadora Foster,
Filippo Franzese, Bianca Mikahil, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Elpida
Skourou, Holly Vallis, and Lani Yamanaka;
the same cast on which the work was created for its world premiere in
Leicester in 2022.
For his reinterpretation
of Kipling’s story Khan has approached the story through the lens of today’s
children, reasoning that they will be the ones who will inherit the world we
currently live in. Reimagined as a young refugee, Mowgli, is caught in a world
devastated by the impact of climate change.
Most of the action
takes place, not in a jungle, but in a dystopian city that has been taken over
by animals who try to persuade Mowgli, as the sole surviving human, to teach
them how to become human.
It’s a grim
vision and although essentially a dance work, Khan has surrounded his dancers
with remarkable design and technology to realise his concept.
portraying Kipling’s familiar characters, each dancer is augmented by an extraordinary
animated representation. Their interactions are accompanied by recorded voices
which narrate Tariq Jordan’s compelling script, while the dancers translate the
words into complex choreographed movement.
At times the
dancers interact and synchronise movements with the animations. Elsewhere the animations dominate; especially at the
beginning with a long animated section which sets up the story, featuring images of driving rain, cities being
washed away, and refugees, including Mowgli’s family, being washed off rafts.
memorable are sequences that depict an animal stampede; a flock of doves
rescuing the body of one of their number that has been shot; and an extraordinary
depiction of a luminescent storm at sea; all performed to a stunning soundscape
by Gareth Fry which includes an original score by Jocelyn Pook, the sounds of
birds, animals, fierce storms, and surprises like the voice of Greta Thunberg,
and even a few bars of Irving King’s 1928 song “If I Had You”.
amazing as these sequences are, ultimately it is the work of Khan’s ten extraordinary
dancers that remains in the memory.
choreography is inventive and beautiful to watch. He draws on his Kathak dance background
to create complex sequences in which the use of fingers, arms and feet are
interwoven with acrobatic contemporary dance techniques. His inventive use of his
dancer’s bodies to create animal characters, particularly evident in his solos
for Baloo the bear, performed by Tom Davis-Dunn and Raksha the tiger, performed
by Elpida Skourou, is extraordinary; and
when his dancers perform group passages in perfect unison the effect is simply
“Jungle Book Reimagined” is an extraordinary creation which defies categorisation. Some might find Khan’s entrenched social messages a bit heavy-handed, although there’s no doubting his passion. Others expecting a technicolour Disney extravaganza might come away bemused. However if you are up for a brilliantly executed, totally original, thought- provoking and spectacular theatrical experience, you will come away richly rewarded.
Images by Ambra Vernuccio.
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au