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Lately the news has been quite dreary with the constant mention of rising interest rates, inflation and the impending climate crisis. The latter is the theme for Akram Khan’s new dance-theatre production ‘Jungle Book reimagined’: a new take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic work set in a future world. Climate change has reached a point of no return and humans have had to move to ‘higher ground’ due to constant heavy rainfall and flooding. The show features animated projections, Khan’s signature combination of Kathak (classical Indian) and contemporary dance styles and a storytelling voiceover, with the dancers recreating the dialogue through their movements. Ten performers make up the Akram Khan Company and they are currently touring with Jungle Book Reimagined. This week the dance company is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre for two days and I was invited to review one of the performances.
Themes and wider impact
Theatre is often used to provide a voice to important causes. Jungle Book reimagined focuses on climate change and the impact that human behaviour can have on the planet. It is admirable how the creative team have taken the renowned story and brought it into the 21st century, focusing on concerns of the present day – particularly around wildlife and habitats. It doesn’t involve preaching or dictating what we should and shouldn’t do, the work just shines a light on what could happen if we as humans take advantage of the planet’s resources and ecosystems. The material could certainly act as a teaching aid for current and future generations, educating them and spreading the word about wider climate issues.
Fluidity is a word that comes to mind when I reflect on the mix of Kathak and contemporary dance styles. Each gentle movement involves every muscle and joint, with the dancers practically transforming into animals through their stature and motions.
With the lack of dynamic costumes, the performers have to rely on their movements to convey the personality of the characters they are portraying. Whilst I believe that the performers behind Bagheera (Holly Vallis) and Baloo (Tom Davis-Dunn) manage to capture this spirit, it isn’t so clear for some of the smaller or ensemble roles. This is most likely down to the limited stage time for other characters, as they aren’t given long to express their characters’ personalities. As one of the only elements of humour in the production, Davis-Dunn brings a moment of laughter with his goofy, Baloo movements and motions. This is much appreciated given the overarching sombre theme of the production.
Projections and dance theatre, does it work?
The spectacular projections and animations by Adam Smith and their team took my breath away, specifically from a technical theatrical perspective. The production team projects Smith’s animated figures onto stage using presumably a kind of transparent film or screen, which is invisible to the naked eye.
Whilst the technology is undeniably impressive, I was a little disappointed by the amount of time dedicated to the projections and voiceovers. They are present at the start of the show, drive the narrative and are used to showcase Mowgli’s early childhood flashbacks. For a piece of dance-theatre with exceptional choreography by Khan, I just wanted there to be less focus on the animations and more on the incredible group dances.
Climate change-themed props and staging
Storage and waste-related materials are key props within the production, reflecting the damage caused by the human populations. From tin cans to cardboard boxes, disposable material is a key part of the set. The character of Kaa (played by various ensemble members) is presented using cardboard boxes which are held up together in a sequence. Whilst I could see that the boxes work within the climate change theme, it was rather confusing seeing the famous snake created through items that are part of the set. Despite this, the group of dancers still manage to evoke fear on stage as Kaa and when combined with Michael Hulls’ green eerie lighting, they act as a mysterious and frightening figure.
Jungle Book reimagined could not be further away from the uplifting musicals that I have seen as of late. Whilst not to my usual taste, I was wowed by the fluid movements on stage. At times I would have appreciated clearer imagery, particularly around the characters, props and sets, but would the material have made you reflect on the climate crisis without these visual metaphors? Possibly not. The distressing fictional future certainly makes you think about the animal world and how we can avoid the events of the show happening in real life. Dance can be such a powerful medium! Jungle Book reimagined is playing its final performance at the Marlowe Theatre this evening, before the Akram Khan Company take the show internationally for the remainder of 2023.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Jungle Book reimagined was gifted in exchange for a review.