Oakland Ballet presents Jangala in three performances, a work that adapts Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories into a fusion of ballet and traditional Indian dance. Choreographer and Artistic Director Graham Lustig has partnered with a master of the Bharatanatyam form to retell the story of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves.
There’s more information about the performances (in Oakland, Castro Valley, and San Leandro, including school performances) at the Oakland Ballet website.
“The folklore of The Jungle Book stories were woven into my childhood,” Lustig says. “I’ve always loved the stories, I’ve loved the power of the story telling. And I was also very fascinated by the fact that I hadn’t found anybody else who had approached it from an Indian arts perspective.” He says he doesn’t share the experience that many might have of being introduced to the stories through the animated film. “If you’re in the dance world, and you want to do Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, or Jungle Book, you could say you have to stumble over Disney to get there. Don’t expect Disney. This is an authentic production, based with authentic Indian dance style, Indian dance moves, Indian music, just a very different type of concept.” The dancers are transformed into a variety of creatures: monkeys, buffalo, wolves, a tiger, which they do by means of the south Indian tradition. “Bharatanatyam, and in that dance form, you don’t wear a mask to transform yourself into an animal. You depict the animal with beautiful, elegant hand gestures.” The dancers have also had to learn new ways of moving. “You know, in ballet we’re always trying to lift gracefully away from the floor. Now we’re having them stamp and work into the floor through the soles of their feet.”