Oakland Ballet: Jangala

JANGALA” Oakland Ballet Company
May 30-Jun 1, 2019
Odell Johnson Center, Laney College, Oakland

India Delights

Kipling’s famous story, “The Jungle Book” is depicted with delightful activities by dancing animals and intriguing humans in ballet director Graham Lustig’s “Jangala”. Nadhi Thekkek, Artistic Director of the Nava Dance Theatre, joined members of the Oakland Ballet as guest artist. She has helped the dancers of her own group and the ballet dancers to learn the gestures of the south Indian classical form, bharatnatyam.

Ranjavastra: The KIng’s Cloth” is Thekkek’s work, the opening number. It is a remake of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The bharatnatyam vocabulary is fully used in this work. Danced by Nadhi Thekkek, Vertika Srivastiva, and Shelley Garg (as the King), the piece uses beautiful robes to dress and then strip the King of his vanity. The dance trio are brilliant in their rhythmic use of this classic Indian vocabulary. To fully develop the story, the choreography might go to more extremes, more fully dressing the King and then stripping him to basic to reveal his pretense. The musicians Shruti Abhishek, Nyantara Narasimhan and Manasa Suresh provided wonderful sound.

Hamsa” a dance work shared by Nava Dance Theatre and the Oakland Ballet Company was inspired by “The Swan” by Mary Oliver and excerpts from the Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. Both Nadhi Thekkek and Lustig provided the choreography.

Hamsa” is a short lyric piece, all costumed in white, wherein the dancers move with long lines of flowing movement, through long spaces on the stage, creating a sense of flight and delight. The music was arranged and performed byananya Ashok with support from Shruti Abhiskek and Rohan Krishnamuthy.

Various Indian composers music is used for the title work of the program, “Jangala”.

Mowgli, a young boy, marvelously danced by Brandon Perez, encounters the creatures of the forests: wolves, their cubs, monkeys, bears, a panther, the monkey king and queen, buffalo and threatening to them all, the Sheer Kahn, the tiger. Samantha Bell, in toe shoes, takes the tiger’s role and is aggressive and dancingly powerful. Through a long series of dramatic and dynamic episodes, Mowgli emerges and a hero and friend to the animals. He ultimately meets the village women, Karina Elon and Ashley Thopiah who acquaint him with his true human self, able to herd the buffalo who defeat the tiger. Although Mowgli returns to the jungle and is mourned by the villages, he is now part of the jungle. In the ballet, the opening and closing of the work depicts all the creatures as city dwellers, who continually rush back and forth. Is the city a jungle?

Besides the excellent performances of Brandon Perez and Samantha Bell, Bangher, the Panther is danced by Landes Dixon, Baloo the Bear, by Lawrence Chen, Sharon King as Raksha and Christopher Dunn as Father Wolf. They are at once frightening and charming. If possible, I would advise re-reading “The Jungle Book” or at least the program scenario at intermission. Events follow fast and furiously; the dancing is lively, threatening and funny all at once and the story unfolds through many scenes.

Once again the Oakland Ballet, Graham Lustig, the Nava Dance Theater are to be congratulated in bringing aspects of the Bay Area community together. Lustig has done this with other groups in earlier programs, such as that of Luna Mexicana. We look forward to the future performances of the company, Nov. 1-2 at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland and of course “The Nutcracker” Dec 21-22, 2019.

Joanna G. Harris