JUNGLE BOOK (1995-97)
The dance was
commissioned by Cuyahoga Community College and the Cleveland Cultural Alliance,
a presenting organization dedicated to music and dance of India, as the
centerpiece of Northern Ohio IndiaFest, a 2 month celebration of South
Asian arts and culture. It was more than 2 years in the making. Heinz Poll,
Director, Ohio Ballet, and V P Dhananjayan, Director, Bharata Kalanjali
jointly choreographed this 90-minute production.
In 1993, the
Bharata Kalanjali troupe presented 43 shows of Ramanaatakam and Sanghamitra
all over USA and Canada at mainstream venues. Ballet dancers usually confine
themselves to their medium, but on this tour, great publicity was given
and members of some ballet companies came to see the shows and lec/dems.
For the Cleveland
performance, members of the Cleveland Ballet and Ohio Ballet Companies
as well as people connected with culture were invited. Lot of coverage
was given in the local papers. Indian dance till then was known only as
a solo dance and such a big troupe performing was an attraction. This motivated
ideas of a collaboration to bring Indian dance into mainstream and after
2 years of deliberations over choice of collaborator company and economics
of funding such a massive project, the choice was narrowed down to Ohio
The work of
German born Heinz Poll, the artistic director and founder of Ohio Ballet
was deeply rooted in German classicism and classical ballet. Being unfamiliar
with the Bharatanaatyam idiom or music, he had reservations about the feasibility
of such a collaboration, but the opportunity to work with Poll was irresistible
to Dhananjayan. On their annual visit to Yogaville, the Dhananjayans flew
down to Cleveland for a closed-door discussion with Poll and found that
behind Poll’s stately demeanor hid a simple nature. The ensuing discussion
opened avenues for exchange of ideas and the choice of Jungle Book as a
theme of universal appeal was arrived at, more so since the feature film
had just been released in America.
The whole approach
to the story, the characterization and the music were totally different
from the Jungle Book production staged in UK, which had been totally Indian.
Jungle Book - The Adventures of Mowgli done in the US was a production
that brought the east and west together in a harmonious blend of form and
content. Bharatanaatyam and Ballet complemented each other, retaining their
separate identities. The cohesive movement language had to clearly tell
a story to the family audience.
The cast consisted
of 12 Ohio Ballet dancers and 10 Bharata Kalanjali dancers who went to
US for a 2-month rehearsal along with the Dhananjayans and composer Pt.
wanted to prove that Indian dance is not just religion, mythology and history.
He wanted to do away with the misconception that it is limited to depiction
of Rama and Krishna episodes. Given its blend of dance styles and evocative
instrumental music, Jungle Book transcended all barriers of language, culture
and context. Demonstrations and interaction on technique and objectives
enhanced the communicative power of this production.
wrote the script with changes in the story line to adapt to the ballet
was done first to see what movements suited the individual animal characters.
in the first scene established the jungle setting and amalgamation of the
2 diverse dance styles. During the formative stages, it was confusing as
ballet expresses through body and Bharatanaatyam expresses through face
and body. Since Bharatanaatyam is danced low to the ground with bare feet
pounding into the earth, the Indian dancers were assigned roles as weighty
elephants, mischievous monkeys and darting peacocks. The classical ballet
dancers being trained for lightness and verticality were cast as graceful
deer, flying birds and leaping wolves.
9 shows in Cleveland, followed by 50 shows in the next season. Jungle Book
was adjudged the best production of the year in America and won them the
Life Magazine Achievement Award. The award ceremony itself was a grand
one on the lines of a mini Emmy or Oscar gala! As nominees, the Dhananjayans
were flown to US and amidst the glitter and pomp, were pleasantly surprised
to be announced the winners of the Life Magazine Achievement Award (Ohio
State Academy Award) 1997. The award for Best Theatrical Production of
the Year '96-97 for Jungle Book dance choreography went to the Ohio Ballet
Based on Rudyard
Kipling's classic tale of an Indian boy abandoned by his parents and brought
up by a pack of wolves, this exciting recreation used western ballet and
classical Indian dance to tell the story of Mowgli and his adventures.
Mischievous Mowgli, beautiful Sita, playful Baloo, fierce Sher Khan, the
slimy Ka and many more came to life as two distinct cultures came together
to produce an exotic, colorful, romantic extravaganza to delight the young
reflects the Indian philosophy. The values and feelings described through
the characters, the sentiments and discipline of the animals should serve
humans to rethink about their own behavior and attitude.
The production opens with a beautiful, jungle scene, animals and birds
the Man Eater:
A human mother and her child enter the forest. Frightened
by the roar of Sher khan, she abandons the child and flees. A mother wolf
loses her prey, finds the child and overcome by motherly instinct, raises
the child with her own cubs. Mowgli grows up in the jungle.
Akela, the leader of the wolf pack and other wolves want to
expel Mowgli. Sher Khan wants the boy as prey. With the help of Baloo the
bear and Bagheera the panther, the mother wolf retains Mowgli with her.
the ways of the jungle:
Baloo and Bagheera teach Mowgli the wonders
of the jungle. One day, as Mowgli is swimming, he spots beautiful Sita
coming with her friends to get water from the river. Both are charmed with
each other. Sher Khan gets on the warpath and the mother wolf rescues Mowgli.
While playing in the forest, the monkeys bully Mowgli. Baloo and Bagheera
ask Ka the python to rescue Mowgli and send him away to the village for
safety. They ask Tomai the elephant commander to carry Mowgli to the village.
On the way, hunters trap them.
of two hearts:
Sita sees the trapped Mowgli and helps him. She teaches
him human ways. The villagers do not understand the wild boy and Sita helps
him return to the jungle.
Mowgli starts to feel human emotions for Sita. The angry
Sher Khan attacks the mother wolf for letting Mowgli escape to the human
world and kills her. Broken hearted, Mowgli and the other animals plan
The animals surge with a war cry. Knowing that fire is the
tiger’s enemy, Mowgli sets fire to Sher Khan’s tail and he meets his just
end. Jubilant animals celebrate their victory.
is such sweet sorrow:
Sita comes in search of Mowgli and calls out
to him. He is torn between love for Sita and love for his animal friends.
The former triumphs. The animals are sad, but Baloo cheers them up and
advises them to get on with life.
Some of the
key artists included Satyajit, G Narendra, Luc Vanier, Padmarani Rasaiah,
Sreelatha Vinod Kumar, Richard Dickinson, Amy Hayes and Xochitl Tejeda
- Wolf Mother
de Cerda - Sita
Vinod Kumar - Mowgli's human mother
- Sher Khan
M. S. Hariharan
Music by Pt.
Set by Russ
need music to choreograph their movements. When Poll asked what sort of
music would be used, I gave him the music of our UK production to listen
to. He was so enchanted with it that he wanted the same music composer!
He still has the UK Jungle Book music with him. We took 10 of our dancers
to rehearse for 2 months. Pt. Vijayaraghava Rao also came with us and we
all stayed in the Ohio Ballet’s guesthouse.
JUNGLE BOOK (1995-97)
the choreography first. Even as the movements were being worked out for
the first scene, Pt. Rao wrote the music for it in tandem. I don’t think
this is done anywhere in the world, everyone was so surprised! At night,
he used to hum out the tune to us from his notations, which I still have
press wanted to see the first scene, we got it composed using just one
western drum. Seeing us compose our beats, Heinz had an idea of what he
wanted for the ballet portion. In the 10 minutes of presentation, though
the dance styles started out as having separate identities, the observers
found that similar movements in both styles gradually fused naturally together.
They had been apprehensive over the collaboration and were readily armed
with criticism, but seeing this preview, were compelled to declare, ‘East
and West met in Ohio Ballet’."
Richard Dickinson, the ballet master, wanted to have a feel of Indian dance
and music and they came to India during the December season. They visited
Kalakshetra as well as a few Sabha programs. Heinz liked Kalakshetra auditorium
so much that he wanted to stage Jungle Book there. They worked with the
Bharata Kalanjali students teaching them a few ballet movements and observed
choreography was all set in US, we returned to India where the recording
featuring around 30 Indian and western instruments, took one month. Again,
it was beautiful fusion without confusion. We went to Ohio and had one
month of intensive rehearsal, this time with recorded music. The first
3 days at the 3000-seat capacity University Theatre were sold out shows."
with this production was very pleasant, our stay was most comfortable
were all paid on par with the American dancers."