A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma City Ballet embarks on exotic adventure with ‘Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet’
The company will stage the Southwestern premiere of the new ballet based on Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories Friday through Oct. 13 at the Civic Center Music Hall.
The Oklahoma City Ballet is embarking on an exotic jungle adventure for the opening production of its 2013-14 season.
The company will stage the Southwestern premiere of “Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet” Friday through Oct. 13 at the Civic Center Music Hall.
“Our audience is getting something that has only been performed once before, earlier this year in Oregon, but not only that, I don’t know that there’s another ballet that exists of this story. So it’s a pretty unique thing,” said Oklahoma City Ballet Artistic Director Robert Mills.
“From the Page to the Stage”
Toni Pimble, artistic director of Eugene (Ore.) Ballet Company, choreographed and adapted the new ballet from Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories in “The Jungle Book.” That made it an ideal opener for the Oklahoma City Ballet’s new season, with its theme “From the Page to the Stage.”
Other productions planned for the season include “The Nutcracker,” “Carmen” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
“There’s not many ballets that have a male hero. Ballet can be very female-centric … so it’s rare in that sense,” Mills said. “It was just exciting to me to have a ballet that was centered around a male dancer, “And I knew our principal dancer, Yui Sato, would do a really good job with it.”
The ballet was developed with children in mind, Pimble said, but she had no interest in recreating a Disney cartoon.
“I think it’s always important to get children in at some point during your season because they are your audience of the future,” she said. “I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want this to be a ballet in which the dancers dressed up as animals, that I wanted it to be more sophisticated than that.”
She worked with costume designer Jonna Hayden and mask designer Lynn Bowers to devise the extravagant outfits and headpieces that complement the story’s Indian setting. Authentic saris bought at the Punjabi Market in Vancouver, B.C., provided the base fabric for many of the costumes.
“I wanted the costumes to be very exotic, because India is exotic and very bright and colorful,” Pimble said. “Classical Indian dance is very rich. There’s seven or eight different styles, one of those being the Kathakali, which are these very, very overblown costumes with amazing makeup. I wanted to incorporate elements of that. So Baloo the bear looks more like a Kathakali dancer than a bear. He’s got this huge headdress and … this huge green bear mask.”
The peacock character, Mao, rightly has one of the most elaborate looks, Pimble said, a $2,000 costume with two tails — one for dancing and one for displaying in the bird’s signature way — and thousands of rhinestones.
The production features about 50 masks, and all the animal characters wear clothing that reflects their personalities.
“I didn’t want to hide the fact that they’re dancers, so the look is very different,” Pimble said. “And I did not want the set to be a set to be a literal interpretation. I wanted it to be an artistic rendering.”
Along with designing the set, Emmy winner Gregory Crane devised stunning larger-than-life puppets to represent two of “The Jungle Book’s” most iconic characters: the fierce tiger Shere Khan and the giant snake Kaa. It takes two dancers to maneuver the Bengal tiger, while eight performers are needed to bring to life the 50-foot-long python/cobra hybrid.
In addition, the principal dancer operates a baby Mowgli puppet in the early scenes, Pimble said.
Indian world fusion
In choosing the music for “Mowgli,” Pimble opted for an Indian world fusion sound she found while scanning iTunes.
“I thought that a classical composition would just not work, so I started looking in New World music. And I found this sitarist Baluji Shrivastav and he actually lives in London. And he works with an Irish flutist and an American singer and a percussionist from Cairo,” she said. “Their music is part Indian, but it’s also part jazz, so … it’s very accessible, I think, to the audience.”
Mills said he hopes a wide audience will follow “Mowgli” on his Oklahoma City Ballet adventure.
“It’s not dumbed down, and at the same time children will love it. Adults will love it. Ballet lovers will love it because it’s packed with a lot of dance. … But then people who don’t know ballet, it’s really a theater piece as well,” Mills said.
“Any artistic director would lie if they said they weren’t worried about selling tickets. That’s part of your job is to keep the dancers working, keep the company afloat. But at the same time, “It’s about making the art form accessible, choosing ballets every once in a while that are accessible across a broad range of ages and interest levels.”
Oklahoma City Ballet’s “Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet”
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Oct. 13.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Information: 848-8637 or www.okcballet.com.
Oklahoma City Ballet 2013-14 Season: “From the Page to the Stage”
Friday through Oct. 13: “Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet.”
Dec. 13-15 and 20-22: “The Nutcracker.”
Feb. 7-9: “Carmen” (Plus Balanchine’s “Rubies” and a world premiere piece from choreographer Matthew Neenan).
April 18-20: “Beauty and the Beast.”