Quick Change Reviews: Akram Khan's Jungle Book Reimagined
Akram Khan’s reimagined Jungle Book adds an extra dimension to the term 'concrete jungle'.
This dance-theatre retelling of Kipling’s classic highlights the destructive lack of compassion or care that humans have given to the land. The land that we are reminded, we are simply visitors to.
Evaluating the damage of irreversible climate change, the animals display dignity in the face of the humanity that has failed them.
Photo by Ambra Vernuccio
The piece opens with stark radio warnings to “seek higher ground” at the consequence of rising sea levels. The planet is in disarray, and families are being torn apart in tragedy.
A girl is taken by the elements away from her family when trying to rescue a bird. She is saved by aquatic animals that deliver her to shore, where she is found by a pack of wolves.
Split by their distrust in the beings that have turned their home into ravaged waste-sites, the wolves present the girl to the animal council led by a dog named Akela. They name her Mowgli, and challenge her to prove her value to the animal kingdom.
In the care of a once beloved palace panther, Bagheera, and an escaped dancing bear, Baloo, Mowgli finds food for the pack in cans that she can easily open. Having impressed her new peers, she quietly becomes a respected family member.
The dynamic duo behind Bagheera and Baloo gave unforgettable, evocative performances. Embodying the universally loved characters they gave them a new lease of life and melancholic depth, punctuated by simply sublime moments of tenderness and vulnerability.
The script, delivered over the dance as an audio recording, though simple, often lends itself to lines of comic relief that add to the charm of these central characters.
That’s not to say they don’t have bite. Khan’s Jungle Book characters are survivors. Freed lab monkeys seek leadership from Mowgli for the power they see her to hold, and the much-feared python, Kaa, is mentally trapped behind the glass window of an enclosure she was once kept in.
The formidable choreography is urgent but vulnerable. It is intimate showing unity between the animals. As the piece progresses, movements swell and grow bigger.
Ground-breaking animations truly elevate the emotive storytelling. Straight from the mind of a visionary, two sheer screens are blank canvases for exquisite drawings that narrate the steady downfall of mankind and the devastating effects on the planet; we see torrential downpours, mounting waste, and deconstructed monuments.
But, we also see the scale of the residents of earth. Tiny mice scutter across the stage, whilst the ancient elephants roam with motivation. Flashbacks show Mowgli’s upbringing and learning of family values to respect and to sacrifice.
Photo by Ambra Vernuccio
Paired with an immersive cinematic score, it’s like periodically stepping into a storybook. Before the quiet is fractured by the blare of a radio worshipped by the animals as a news source.
This is powerful storytelling that quips and questions our everyday moves in an urban landscape.
Moving with animalistic instinct and wit, the ensemble are masters of shapeshifting and experts of contortion.
The Akram Khan Company does not require imagination, for their messages are already clear. The genius is, they make you realise it. And, never forget it.