Brief introductory music booms with a steady drumbeat and a wild, jungle-esque quality as a deep voice crashes through the theater: “Thus begins the story…wrought with danger, adventure, and a clash of mortal enemies—but above all the story of relationships that transcend all barriers.” Shortly after, a trumpet sounds unexpectedly offstage, echoing the wild sounds of the forest. Adorned with ivy climbing across the walls and dim lighting in earthy hues, the theater transports its audience to another world. From the set design and music to the dancing, Harvard Ballet Company’s “The Jungle Book”—which opened in the Loeb Ex on April 3 and runs through April 11—is executed exceptionally well.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” the performance tells a story of adventure and relationships that overcome barriers. It chronicles the life of Mowgli (Angelina R. Massa ’18), a human being raised by wolves in the jungle. With the help of Bagheera (Ellie Y. Underwood ’18) and Baloo (Juan J. Aparicio ’15), Mowgli interacts with a variety of animals as he grows up. He learns to adapt to life in the jungle, evident in his successful fight against the tiger Shere Khan (Gabriella D. Czarniak ’17).
The dancing is incredibly precise and technically consistent, even on the level of a professional production. Some of the dances are performed on pointe and others are not, allowing dancers to display a wide array of techniques. The choreography, which was created by several company members and guest choreographer Karen Gayle, challenges the dancers not only to mimic actions of animals through their mesmerizing dancing but also to tell a captivating and plot-driven story—a challenge they meet.
Despite the technical proficiency of the dancing, the show truly becomes a wild success due to the innovative directorial decisions of Lilly C. Riverón ’17 and Catherine J. Qin ’17. The production uses the Ex to its fullest extent: For example, at one point dancers playing the roles of monkeys climb around the ledges of the second-tiered balcony. The set design is fairly simple, though it teems with intricate details that give it the wildness of a jungle. The consistency of the background, which does not change throughout the show, yields attention to the contrasts occurring in front of it as the story’s characters and plot developed. Additionally, the performance merges live, student-created music with pre-recorded music, both of which add authenticity. The live music lends an additional layer to the depth of the jungle theme; though the sounds are at times unique and unexpected, the music combines technical accomplishment with thematic interpretation. Additionally, narrative interludes cut through the silence between music to add words to the story being told through dance. This allows for audience members to connect more concretely to the plot of the story.
All in all, Harvard Ballet Company’s “The Jungle Book” is a compelling exploration of a traditional story innovatively interpreted. From its technical precision and immersive setting to its engaging choreography and music, the production is a strong contribution to ballet on the Harvard campus.