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Canberra Today 22°/27° | Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Reimagined Jungle Book ‘crosses boundaries’

Akram Khan’s Jungle Book reimagined. Photo: Ambra Vernuccio.

Dance / Jungle Book Reimagined, Akram Khan Company. At Canberra Theatre, February  3. Reviewed by MICHELLE POTTER.

English choreographer Akram Khan has made a name for himself as an artist who pushes boundaries and who looks for new ways of presenting well known stories.

His production of Giselle, which he removes from its 19th century origins and sets in a modern context of migrant labour, is one example.

So too is Jungle Book Reimagined which takes as a starting point Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a collection of stories that, like Giselle, dates back to the 19th century. Jungle Book Reimagined points out how vulnerable we are as our climate becomes catastrophic. The opening scenes are gripping as we see buildings across the world, ones that we know well such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, collapsing. We are also made to listen to emergency broadcasts about the situation.

In Act I we are introduced to a girl child in this production. She has been separated from her family when she falls off a boat that is taking the family away from their now uninhabitable home, made so as a result of rising water and other disastrous climate changes. The child is discovered by a wolf pack who eventually name her Mowgli. We follow the decisions made about her future by the wolves and assorted other animals, some of whom are represented by line-drawn animation techniques. The story is told in large part by a soundtrack of voices from various actors.

In Act II other animals, who have come from human testing laboratories, attempt to have Mowgli teach them to become human and take on characteristics that they find may help them in some way. But Mowgli eventually realises she must support the friends with whom she has found peace rather than give in to the demands of this other group.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Jungle Book Reimagined is that, for all intents and purposes, it is classed as dance. Khan, who has a Bangladeshi heritage, is well versed in the Indian dance style of kathak. The hybrid choreography he has developed in Jungle Book Reimagined is Western contemporary dance with kathak overtones, especially in some movements of the hands and fingers and the feet, which occasionally flex up with the heel remaining on the ground. The dance sections, which are interspersed throughout the two-hour production, are magnificently performed. There are some exceptional group sections and other moments when a single character dances solo. The dancing is nothing short of spectacular.

But Jungle Book Reimagined defies characterisation as any specific theatrical genre. It is more than dance. It is not a play, not an item of musical theatre. It is hard to know how to pin it down other than to say it crosses boundaries in the most creative manner even though it is sometimes difficult to follow the jumble of conversations that happen among the characters. It is also a hugely immersive show and, while there were parts of the production that probably need a second viewing to fully understand the story, I found it, and the transmission of its message for those who inhabit our earth, terrifyingly brilliant.



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