Climate change warning from new Jungle Book

November 16, 2022 09:28
Photo: Ambra Vernuccio

A highlight of this year’s New Vision Arts Festival is the Akram Khan Company from London. A regular visitor to Hong Kong, last weekend it has brought its latest production “Jungle Book reimagined” which was premiered in the UK early this year.

This new production about climate change cannot be more timely in view of the COP 27 conference going on in Egypt currently. The work commences and ends with a rainstorm. There are regular news announcements of the rise in water level in this work. The central message is that human beings are only guests in this planet earth and must look after it well for the other animals.

This two-act work lasting for two hours, which has a lot of recorded dialogue spoken by actors, is a multi-media work with as much theatre as dance. In this new adaptation, the central character Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s novel has been updated to a young female refugee who has been separated from her mother and family after falling from a raft during a storm. Fortunately she is then adopted by a wolf pack and is taken care of by a black panther Bagheera and a dancing bear Baloo.

But the story seems less important to Khan than the political message of climate change which is repeated too often, including at one point by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The narrative is sometimes not clear at all, which is not helped by the fact that the dancers wear almost identical costumes. The python Kaa is only superficially represented by a few cardboxes.

Khan’s company has 10 dancers in total. For this tour, the company was in collaboration with students from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Khan’s choreographic style is as usual rooted in Indian kathak. In this work, his vocabulary is somewhat limited and repetitive. There is a lack of solos and duets to develop the characterisation of the main characters, which is done instead by the recorded dialogue. His ensemble dances are however powerful and vigorous.

The work is continuously dark and bleak in mood with no lighter passages as a contrast. Act 1 is far too long, while Act 2 is better structured. Jocelyn Pook’s music is mostly gloomy. Particularly praiseworthy is the animation designed by YeastCulture which enlivens the work throughout the evening with a variety of animals.

“Jungle Book reimagined” is undeniably a politically correct show with some memorable theatrical moments despite being somewhat thin in dance content.

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veteran dance critic