Jungle Book re-imagined

St James Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington

23/02/2024 - 25/02/2024

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Akram Khan: Director/Choreographer 
Mavin Khoo: Creative Associate/Coach
Tariq Jordan: Writer 
Sharon Clark: Dramaturgical Advisor 
Jocelyn Pook: Composer 

Akram Khan Company

Jungle Book reimagined comes to us from the internationally celebrated choreographer and International Festival favourite Akram Khan Company UK.

Akram Khan and his team use dance-theatre in this magical dance retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s family classic, to reinvent the journey of Mowgli through the eyes of a climate refugee. 

Jungle Book reimagined transports you to a near future world, where a family is torn apart as they escape their homeland ravaged by climate change. Arriving alone in a deserted modern city, and with wild animals claiming the streets as their own, Mowgli soon discovers unlikely allies in this strange new jungle.

In this thrilling dance-theatre production, the dancers become the hero Mowgli, Baloo, wolves and even the mighty Kaa. State-of-the-art animation, narrated voiceover and a powerful soundtrack bring the jungle and city to life.

Jungle Book reimagined is a beautifully compelling and vital piece of storytelling about our need to belong and bond with others, and to connect with and respect our natural world.

Akram Khan: Director/Choreographer 
Mavin Khoo: Creative Associate/Coach
Tariq Jordan: Writer 
Sharon Clark: Dramaturgical Advisor 
Jocelyn Pook: Composer 
Gareth Fry: Sound Designer 
Michael Hulls: Lighting Designer 
Miriam Buether: Visual Stage Designer 
Adam Smith (YeastCulture): Art Direction and Director of Animation 
Nick Hillel (YeastCulture): Producer/Director of Video Design 
Naaman Azhari, Natasza Cetner, Edson R Bazzarin Rotoscope: Artists/Animators 
Lighting Technician: Gerlad Mcdermott
Video Technician: Matthew Armstrong
Rehearsal Director: Andrew Pan Wui Min

Jan Villanueva
Holly Vallis
Elpida Skourou
Matthew Sandiford
Maximilian Revell
Balam Maya
Yamanaka Lani
Ferrer Hector
Harry Foster
Franzese Filippo
Tom Dunn
Chacon Mikhail Bianca

Dance , Dance-theatre , Contemporary dance ,

120 mins

How prescient was Kipling

Review by Jennifer Shennan 01st Mar 2024

A fascinating in-depth interview late last year on Radio New Zealand between Akram Khan and Kim Hill—(which of her interviews has not been deep and fascinating?)—is well worth accessing in RNZ archive. It’s no surprise to learn there that the bright mind and ferocious drive from Khan’s youngest days has followed through to his celebrated career as choreographer today. Jungle Book Reimagined.

We have seen other work by Khan here some Festivals back, in a program shared with French dancer Sylvie Guillem, and more recently and most memorably, in English National Ballet’s production of his Giselle in an Auckland season. That classic too was ‘re-imagined’ in a timeless setting, and a huge set was used to great effect for the dramatic dancing that nonetheless remained central to the work. 

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Glorious dance artists

Review by Lyne Pringle 26th Feb 2024

As the title suggests this is a new rendering of Rudyard Kipling’s famous tale The Jungle Book.

Renowned choreographer Akram Khan, in his dance/drama version, has set the story in a near future world under duress. The central character of Mowgli becomes a climate refugee separated from her mother in a drowning chaotic world where society has broken down.

At the heart of Akram Khan’s Jungle Book reimagined is a company of glorious dance artists. They bring extraordinary expressiveness and detail to embody the characters of the story.

Space is stretched, bodies are curves of threnodic phrasing. Movement rests on a foundation of Kathak, a classical Indian dance form which is Khan’s original idiom.

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A brilliant piece of dance/theatre

Review by Helen Balfour 24th Feb 2024

A static news broadcast gathers our attention as the house lights dim and we focus on the closed curtain. It’s 2029 (which is closer than you think!) flood waters are rising, nature is crying, food rations, you know the score. 

The rear curtain rises ever so slowly as, at the front hangs the finest gossamer scrim for purposes discovered shortly, revealing static silhouetted figures. 

Shortly the scene is set with black and white captivating graphics and video showing key global cities in devastation, refugees struggling to stay onboard floating rafts, images and situations regularly observed on our planet today. 

It is a frightened young, female refugee that becomes Mowgli, the human character in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, who has now been displaced in this crumbling world, it is her story. 

Skillful, leading-edge multi-layered technologies abound, driving the mood and intentions of the story. YeastCulture are creative geniuses; the video projections and animation is visually stunning and immersive, letting us enter a three dimensional decaying world. The scrim at the front of the stage displays magnificent projections of animals and birds, notably elephants, majestic and wise and the friendly, concerned Kite Chil who is often there for Mowgli guiding and showing her the way. 

Seven of the ten performers represent wolves most definitively, through their undulating physical smoothness and earthy, muscular tenacity. They work together convincingly as a pack and exclude Mowgli as a human addition. It’s Baloo (Sloth Bear) and Bagheera (Black Panther) and Akela (Wolf leader) who shine both in physical excellence and extraordinary characterization, capturing subtle nuances of animalism linked with human mannerisms. Kaa (the dastardly Indian Python) shrewdly presented as a collection of boxes in varying sizes, a rippling, lyrical powerhouse, transfixes Mowgli and others manipulating their decisions. 

I cannot speak highly enough of the perfectly timed and riveting unison dance sections, balanced with hints of Indian Kathak dance, flexed feet, story-telling hand gestures and deep bends in open positions, all tightly held in compact groupings, pack-like.

Act 2 opens in the same way as the show began, the slow rising of the rear curtain to another silhouetted scene of stillness, foreshadowing gloom of more animal and nature annihilation and devastation, the sound resounding deeply within us as we watch. 

We see a monkey court, perhaps serving as a metaphor of our defunct society with the monkey’s wanting power and dominance, just like us humans, the dancers again present striking personification through ape-like actions. 

Through more superb animated video, wise, fortuitous life tidbits help guide the story as periodically we are taken back to Mowgli’s past life in her village with her mother teaching her how to care for the animals and nature, taking and replacing just enough for their needs.

The common global themes and institutions that prevail in this fragile world of ours; war, power and control, religion, greed, dominance and neglect, sabotaging harmony, peace and renewal are all identified here in this adaptation of Kipling’s tale. There is a nod to Greta Thunberg and her speech at the United Nations in New York; …” How dare you, How dare you…”,  a reminder that the world needs much work. Ikram Khan has said “ …help us to listen again not to our voices, but voices of the natural world, that we, the modern world, silence”. 

Jungle Book reimagined is a brilliant piece of dance/theatre, uniquely binding digital technology and moody lighting by Michael Hull, that is, on occasion a little too gloomy. Miriam Buether’s, simple, yet effective stage set, sound design by Gareth Fry, original score by Jocelyn Pook and of course the fabulous CultureYeast’s digital imagery, all combine masterfully with Khan’s vision to “relearn and reimagine a new world together”. Let’s do it! 


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