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Jungle Book: The Adventures of Mowgli.

Jungle Book: The Adventures of Mowgli brought a different dimension to Ohio Ballet's repertory of mostly abstract contemporary choreography. Based on Pudyard Kipling's classic tale of an Indian troy who is abandoned by his parents and brought up by a pack of wolves, the cross-cultural story ballet was commissioned by Cuyahoga Community College and the Cleveland Cultural Alliance as the centerpiece of Northern Ohio IndiaFest, a two-month celebration of South Asian arts and culture. More than two years in the making, the ninety-minute production was co-choreographed by Ohio Ballet artistic director Heinz Poll and V.P. and Shanta Dhananjayan of Madras. The cast consisted of twelve Ohio Ballet dancers and ten members of the Dhananjayan Bharata Kalanjali Dance Company.

The unique project challenged the choreographers to blend two distinctive classical dance traditions into a cohesive movement language that would clearly tell a story to a family audience. The Dhananjayans are revered gurus of bharata natyam, a dance tradition of South India. Poll's work is deeply rooted in German expressionism and classical ballet. Jungle Book, a timeless fable about a young man's ability to coexist in the animal kingdom and in human society, proved to be a solid meeting ground for choreography representing East and West. Only three principal characters in the ballet are human; all the others are animals.

Since bharata natyam is danced low to the ground with bare feet pounding into the earth, the Indians were assigned roles as weighty elephants, mischievous monkeys, and darting peacocks. Since classical ballet strives for lightness and verticality, the ballet dancers were cast as graceful deer, flying birds, and leaping wolves. Poll's most imaginative creation, however, was the python, a seductive creature (sinuously danced by Amy Hayes) who coiled on the floor, flickered her fingers like a poisonous tongue, and rose magnificently to her full height on pointe.

The title role of Mowgli was wonderfully danced by Satyajit Dhananjayan, son of the Indian choreographers. Slender and gangly, he looked like a vulnerable child as he cartwheeled onstage and played with the adorable wolf cubs. But he also showed emotional depth dancing with his wolf mother (warmly portrayed by Indian dancer Padma Rasiah) and with the village girl, Sita (radiantly danced by ballerina Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda). In one of the ballets most touching moments, Sita teaches Mowgli to dance. Because bharata natyam dancers rarely touch more than their partners' fingertips, Sita was lifted and supported by Dream Mowgli (ballet dancer Jason Mooney) while Mowgli poured out his feelings in the precise hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions of bharata natyam.

Ballet master Richard Dickinson played Akhela, the powerful leader of the wolf pack, and ballet dancer Luc Vanier was Bhalu, the roly-poly old bear. Principal roles played by Indian dancers were Mowgli's human mother (Sreelatha Vinod Kumar), Sherkhan, the evil tiger (G. Narendra), and Bhageera, the friendly panther (M.S. Hariharan).

Although the two cultures melded in the choreography, the Indian element dominated the music and costumes. Film composer Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao wrote Indian melodies and rhythms that followed the choreography step by step. The matching of music and footwork is traditional in bharata natyam, but it looked Disneyesque in a Western context. A. Christina Giannini's costumes were based on the wrapped cotton garments of Indian villagers with realistic masks, headpieces, fur, and fringe added for the animals. Russ Borski's abstract set was compromised by Julie Duro's lighting, which illustrated details of the story with cartoonish projections.

Despite some artistic flaws and excessive length (the program included a pristine interpretation of Balanchine's Concerto Barocco), the production was a popular success. Still, revisions and cuts are likely to be made before next fall, when a tour is planned throughout North America and india with an intermediate stop in London.


It's refreshing and rare to watch a ballet company perform well and enjoy itself in the process. Yet Sarasota Ballet managed to accomplish this quite well in its season opener, Don Quixote (Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, Florida, November 15-17, 1996). From start to finish, the entire company never relinquished the Spanish style. Matadors sliced the air with their capes and villagers reveled in jotas; pantomine scenes were crisp and energetic.

Diane Partington, a Sarasota favorite, and Ariel Serrano infused the roles of Kitri and Basilio with infectious enthusiasm and playfulness. And their solid technique was up to the bravura dancing. A standout of the evening was Nicole Martin as Queen of the Dryads. She pulled out of thin air gentle soothing movements with an elegant grace. Alexei Dovgopolyi as the lead toreador, Espada, and Alice LuAn as a street dancer were a magnetic duo. Their delicious flirtation and abandonement brought sensuality to the evening.

Choreographically, this Don Quixote flowed. Although maintaining the Petipa classicism, it was peppered with bull-like leaps and flamenco flavor. Robert de Warren, the company's visionary artistic director jointly choreographed the production with pavel Fomin, principal company ballet master.
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Title Annotation:Ohio Theatre, Cleveland, Ohio
Author:Salisbury, Wilma
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Previous Article:Where the Wild Things Are.
Next Article:Oakland Ballet, Paramount Theatre, Zellerbach Hall, Sep. 27-Nov 17, 1997.

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