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Akram Khan - The Jungle Book Reimagined - Adelaide, South Australia

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How does someone move Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book from the printed page to a visual experience? There are several film adaptions and now Akram Khan brings it to dance, changing to a post-apocalyptic setting, reimagined characters and a multi-layered production, transforming the children’s tale into an urgent call to action.


As the curtain rises, the silhouette figures of the dancers stand posed against a green backdrop on an otherwise empty stage, while snippets of radio broadcasts fade in and out warning of drought, flood, fire, rising sea levels and the impending destruction of civilisation. The scene is set in a drought.


The rain comes; an animated tempest projected onto the front of the stage, while the backdrop projection we see this is not set in Kipling’s jungle, but a post-apocalyptic cityscape surrounded by rising seas. The stormy sea grows deeper and we see refugees clinging to flotsam tossed about on the waters. The primary focus is one makeshift raft, that carries a mother and her daughter. The child falls into the ocean, is rescued by whales, and we are transported with her into the aforementioned post-apocalyptic city, where a wolf pack finds and presents her to the animal council which decides to let her stay, giving her the name Mowgli.


The characters from Kipling's book are present, but changed to facilitate the story. Baloo is an elderly dancing bear who escaped from his captors, and provides comic relief from the bleak setting. Bagheera the panther was also a prisoner as a palace pet, while the Bandarlog are former lab monkeys. The dancers portray each of the individual characters, although without the narrative identifying them might be difficult. Of course, some have been omitted; in his book,Kipling created a cast worthy of Cecil B DeMille. I wondered how Kaa the python would be envisaged. It is amazing what a few cardboard boxes can do.


Also we learn that fire, is the most feared possession of mankind. Animals can’t control this, only mankind can.


The piece ends with the elephants offering advice on how the animals can survive, and Mowgli returning to the ruined city, to stand up and fight for her newfound friends. There is no advice on solving the climate crisis depicted throughout the work.


The blend of dance, spoken narrative, animated projections, music and sounds, is superb. Everything works together seamlessly. There are some wonderful effects. I especially liked Mowgli shooting the arrow from the bow. This is an unbelievably good watch.



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