The Oklahoma City Ballet is embarking on an exotic jungle adventure tonight through Sunday at the Civic Center Music Hall.
The company will stage the Southwestern premiere of “Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet” as its opening production of its 2013-14 season.
“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,” Oklahoma City Ballet Artistic Director Robert Mills told me in a recent interview.
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.”
“I wanted the costumes to be very exotic, because India is exotic and very bright and colorful,” Pimble added. “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.”
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.
“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.”
Check out these preview videos of the show, which I’m looking forward to seeing tonight. To read more of my recent interview with Mills and Pimble, click here.
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.