CentralDanceReview

Akram Khan’s Jungle Book Reimagined – Curve, Leicester

Reviewer: Daljinder Johal

Music: Jocelyn Pook

Writer: Tariq Jordan

Director and Choreographer: Akram Khan

Akram Khan’s Jungle Book Reimagined is far from a Disney movie. Instead, the rise in sea levels globally in this tale of survival through dance feels more Biblical – and even then, Noah wasn’t dim enough to shoot down the dove that brought peace and hope in a time of despair, unlike some of the humans in this darker take on a well-known story.

In this reimagining, climate refugee Mowgli loses grip of the raft transporting her family to higher ground. She is found by a wolf pack in a deserted modern high-rise city. Among its new inhabitants: an uneasy alliance of animals of all shapes and sizes.

A more sustainable set design cleverly sees cardboard boxes pile on either side of the stage to suggest the look and feel of the towering dystopian city. Two screens at the front and back of the stage add to a sense of entrapment for Mowgli as a lone, vulnerable child in this unstable new order. While the pack and a council of animals dispute over whether a “small human” is safe enough to keep around, knowing she’ll soon grow, beautiful illustrations of animals, like a mighty elephant herd dwarfing the entire group, show the constant threat of danger. Then, the animals’ anxiety over an outcast human hunter cements this risk further.

Familiar favourites Bagheera and Baloo return, entrusted to care for Mowgli by the council. The pair bring some levity to the more serious message of climate change as well as the dynamics of the wolf pack. The animals’ dialogue plays over the dancers who artfully mimic their relevant animals movements or capture their tone as they argue or entertain: from Bagheera’s quiet slinking turning into a sudden hiss or Baloo’s enthusiastic bounce as he recalls his former life. A medley of distinctive accents complements this to make characters easily identifiable.

Still, the show is at its strongest when it moves away from the fun to when the duo lose Mowgli to the Bandar-log, a group of lab monkeys and seek out the help of Kaa, a rock python. The surprising and innovative depiction of Kaa is simultaneously a real delight and unnerving. Yet both serpent and ape elicit our sympathy with the clear consequences of human’s disrespect for nature in their respective histories.

A sea of jeering monkeys in a courthouse could have portrayed them as the enemy to a surrounded Mowgli. But their obsession over her dexterous thumbs and trying to learn human ways of domination by listening to a human radio feels like a sad and fruitless effort to regain power after their mistreatment. This adaptation may celebrate dance, but Mowgli shows the truer and more aspirational side of humanity with our drive to touch, hug and give kindness.

The show has few strong references to the refugee crisis, preferring to sample voices such as Greta Thunberg and centre humanity’s treatment of animals. However, it’s inevitable that Mowgli becomes a symbol of what we can achieve by remembering that we are all guests” of the planet and showing kindness to all of its inhabitants, animals and humans alike.

Runs Until 9 April 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Less Disney, more Thunberg

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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