JUNGLE BOOK (1995-97) (Collaboration)

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 Ballet.

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. Vijayaraghava Rao.

Dhananjayan 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.

Dhananjayan wrote the script with changes in the story line to adapt to the ballet form.

The choreography was done first to see what movements suited the individual animal characters.

The narration 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.

There were 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 Company.


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 and old.

Jungle Book 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.

Happy co-existence: The production opens with a beautiful, jungle scene, animals and birds co-existing peacefully.

Sher Khan, 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’s court: 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.

Learning 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.

Monkey business: 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.

Meeting 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.

Sweet dream shattered: 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 revenge.

Triumph over evil: 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.

Parting 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 de Cerda.

Satyajit Dhananjayan - Mowgli
Padma Rasiah - Wolf Mother
Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda - Sita
Richard Dickinson - Akhela
Luc Vanier - Baloo
Sreelatha Vinod Kumar - Mowgli's human mother
G. Narendra - Sher Khan
M. S. Hariharan - Bhagheera
Music by Pt. Vijayaraghava Rao
Set by Russ Borski
Lighting by Julie Duro

"The westerners 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.

We did 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 with me."

"Since the 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’."

"Heinz and 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 our classes."

"After the 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."

"Our experience with this production was very pleasant, our stay was most comfortable
And we were all paid on par with the American dancers."

JUNGLE BOOK (1995-97) - Reviews - Photo Album