Tuesday, April 23

Akram Khan’s Jungle Book Reimagined – Birmingham Hippodrome

Beyond reclaiming a colonial text, character names and a pun on the words “urban jungle” there is little to connect “Akram Khan’s Jungle Book – Reimagined” with “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling. It is very inventive, though, but with a kind of invention usually the preserve of student shows and the fringe. Card boxes, which were plentiful, were gainfully employed in various roles and made for an intriguing Kaa, but my heart sank when I saw yet another company wafting a large sheet on stage to portray the sea. It had great intentions. It was a noble attempt to use the original story as a metaphor for the present ecological crisis and if you don’t clock that then Great Thunberg’s voice will undoubtedly confirm its credentials for you.

The scant and surprisingly spartan set was supplemented by some striking animation projected on a transparent gauze downstage which, whilst benefitting the protection, inserted a very noticeable barrier between the performers and the audience, which is never broken and, it seems, a connection is never truly made. The cute animations (and not in the Disney sense cute) dance and dazzle and soar and sweep, but never go beyond anything we couldn’t see on TV or lap top or iPad. We want to see dancers and we do, but through a screen and, to allow the animation to work, dimly lit.

Photo: Ambra Vernuccio

It works best in the ensemble dance/movement pieces which are engaging and compelling, but sadly few and far between. The sense of animalistic physicality is perfectly captured, and some are hauntingly accurate. A physical vocabulary had been clearly and precisely agreed and it was enthralling to see each creature come to life. Perfectly affecting were the attitudes they struck and the focus they pulled when speaking, but of course they weren’t speaking. Not the dancers. This is where it gets a bit muddled. The voices were pre-recorded and a vast array of international voices were utilised, however, due to the number of voices at time it was not easy to spot which voice belonged to which animal and, consequentially, a lot of plot was lost.

Each dancer gives and commits wholly to the piece Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis-Dunn, Thomasin Gülgeç, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Pui Yung Shum, Fukiko Takase, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang and Luke Watson. A wonderfully diverse and talented team who we all wanted to see more from.

It is a piece promising more than it achieves being a clutter of diverse ideas – dance with physical movement, with voices, with animation, with a re-invention of old story. Each element needed more time to evolve and grow into what could be a stunning piece of work. The dancers dwarfed by the animation and marooned on an austere set.

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 30th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★