Composer, conductor, band
leader, jazz pianist
dirigent, jazzový pianista)
Book Ballet, La Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
State Street Ballet
world premiere October 10th, 2009
State Street Ballet’s ‘Jungle Book’ Wildly Delightful
From the characters to the sets to the music, the
company's opening production was a crowd-pleaser
State Street Ballet
opened its new season over the weekend with a full-length dance version
of Rudyard Kipling’s
The Jungle Book that was a joy to behold.
A collaboration by company artistic director Rodney Gustafson and
ballet master Gary McKenzie, The Jungle Book filled the stage
of The Granada
with a superb cast. The dancers gave life to Mowgli the Jungle Boy and
Kipling’s beloved animal characters. The original music, by Czech
composer Milan Svoboda, was fresh, romantic and funny.
At Sunday’s matinee, many of the seats were filled with small children
in dress-up clothes, who sat mesmerized throughout the ballet’s nearly
two hours. The noise came at the end, with the kids and their grownup
companions roaring their appreciation.
Mowgli as a young man was danced by Jose Edwin Gonzalez, a transplant
from Colombia who brings superior acting skills as well as dancing
mastery to the State Street company. Portraying Mowgli as a young boy
was Joel Sterken. The young Mowgli’s wolf cub friends were danced by
Leeza Domrachev and Afton Gustafson; the full-grown versions were
danced by David Michael Eck and Steven Jasso.
Shere Kahn, the tiger stalking Mowgli, was performed brilliantly by
Bayaraa Badamsambuu. He is one of the company’s two Russian imports who
trained with Perm Ballet and bring genuine brilliance to their
performances. The other Perm alumnus is Sergei Domrachev, who danced
the Monkey King with his customary bravura style. These two are worth
the price of admission alone.
Mowgli’s jungle friends Ikki the Porcupine and Riki-Tiki-Tavi the
Mongoose were danced by Katie McDermott and Cecily Stewart,
respectively and charmingly. His Wolf Mother was Allyson Mattoon, and
Akela the wolf pack leader was John Christopher Piel. Appearing as
Mowgli’s wonderful animal friends were Leila Drake as Bagheera the
black panther, Victoria Luchkina as the sinuous python Kaa and Gary
McKenzie as Baloo, the large but not scary Sloth Bear.
Kipling being a proper Victorian man couldn’t just leave Mowgli to run
wild in the jungle, so he introduced the human girl Messua, danced by
lovely Jennifer Rowe. An obnoxious/hilarious “safari couple” were
portrayed by Marina Fliagina and Gary McKenzie, complete with khaki
clothes and rifles to aim at the animals.
The score was recorded in Prague by the Symphonic Orchestra of the
National Theatre and the composer’s Milan Svoboda Jazz Orchestra, with
vocalist Yvetta Blanarovicova. Jean-Francois Revon created the scenic
design, and the sets were painted by Serena Shanary and Ismael Angaon,
with production and lighting design by Mark Somerfield.
The costume designer, A. Christina Giannini, has dressed Broadway,
off-Broadway, opera and dance performances with the likes of the Alvin Ailey
and Robert Joffrey
companies, Buglisi Dance
Theater in New York and the Ballet National of Caracas, Venezuela.
Assisting her with Jungle Book’s costumes and air-brushed
makeup was Anaya Cullen. Brittany McClelland created the wonderful
character makeup for the animals.
State Street Ballet enjoys a successful touring season each year, and
has been warmly welcomed as far away as Mainland China. The Jungle
Book is sure to be a crowd-pleaser wherever it goes.
— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.
The Jungle Book at the Granada
State Street Ballet
Brings Wild Animals to the Stage
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Granada was packed with spectators last Sunday afternoon for
State Street Ballet's matinee production of The Jungle Book.
Many in the audience were children, some of whom were clad in animal
print clothing celebrating their favorite characters. A few may have
been aspiring ballerinas, but you didn't have to be one to enjoy the
fun of this show. Although it contained some somber moments, the
production’s overarching mood was playful, and the dancers—dressed in
A. Christina Giannini’s stunning, elaborate animal costumes—made a
superb show of skill throughout the performance. The backdrop remained
fixed, but set designers used colored lights to create changes in mood
from the silky, sophisticated movements of Leila Drake as Bagheera the
panther to the raucous buffoonery of the monkeys, led by Sergei
Domrachev as their king.
Delighted squeals from the audience confirmed their appreciation of
Rodney Gustafson and Gary McKenzie's choreography, particularly during
solo performances by Jose Edwin Gonzalez, who played Mowgli. He never
missed a beat, performing seemingly endless jumps, spins, and twirls
across the stage, and pulled off a couple of marvelous scenes with the
fair maiden Messua, played by Jennifer Rowe. Some of the synchronized
scenes involving many characters were a bit confusing, but the village
girls who danced with Rowe brought harmony to their ensemble work.
Victoria Luchkina, in the role of Kaa the snake, delivered a truly
standout performance, seamlessly transitioning from one impossible pose
to the next in a slinky costume that did much to accentuate the
fluidity of her character.
Combined with Milan Svoboda's fun, original score, the entire
company's engaging acting and dancing skills whisked viewers into the
fanciful drama of Rudyard Kipling's classic tale. Relationships and
alliances unfolded, and in the end, all of the characters converged to
help Mowgli defeat the evil tiger Shere Khan—played by Bayaraa
Badamsambuu—leaving the young audience with a notion that it's best to
join forces when facing a big challenge. With only one month to prepare
for this show, State Street Ballet’s dancers certainly modeled such a
group effort, with dazzling results
Jungle Book review
Oct 11, 2009, 11:25 AM
Edhat Santa Barbara
What can I say? Mowgli, performed by Jose Edwin Gonzalez, has some
moves! The whole cast of tonight's performance at The Granada did.
It's been a long time since I've seen a ballet, and I didn't know what
to expect. I knew that The Jungle Book would not likely be a
traditional ballet of precision moves and pink tutus. In fact, there
was not a single tutu in the entire performance.
There were moves you would expect -- leaps, pirouettes, lifts and
shuffling on tip toes -- and moves you might not have expected --
including a monkey slapping his own rear. Once I quit trying to
understand why wolves would be frolicking about the jungle dancing and
decided to simply enjoy the show, it was great.
The costumes were fun, the performers were engaging and athletic and
the music set the tone.
I recommend: Read the synopsis in the program to help you engage with
the story line.
State Street Ballet's "The
A Novel Idea for a Ballet
Quaint Santa Barbara is home of the prestigious State Street Ballet
(SSB)—a company whose fifteen year longevity has augmented a devout
local audience and international acclaim. Under the artistic direction
of Rodney Gustafson, founder of SSB, the company has consistently
flourished. Over the last year, Gustafson has fully immersed himself in
the creation of a new full-length ballet that has audience appeal
written all over it. The production: "The Jungle Book" based on Rudyard
Kipling's classic tale.
Jose E. Gonzalez and Victoria Luchkina, "The Jungle Book," State
Street Ballet Photo by David Bazemore
Gustafson became inspired during a visit to New York. "I saw the
Disney version of 'Tarzan' on Broadway a few years ago and was
fascinated by the choreography for the monkeys. Shortly after, I was
approached by Milan [conductor/composer Milan Svoboda] who composed a
full-length 'Jungle Book' for the ballet company of the National
Theatre in Prague. Mr. Svoboda had heard about State Street Ballet's
history of creating original works and asked if I would be interested
in producing my own version to his music."
The choreography was a collaborative effort between Gustafson and
SSB ballet master Gary McKenzie. They incorporated several dance styles
that were just as varied as the music. The compilation consists of
classical music performed by the Symphonic Orchestra of the National
Theatre in Prague, jazz music performed by Svoboda's Jazz Orchestra,
and world fusion music by various guest artists including Czech
vocalist Yvetta Blanarovičova. The world premiere of Gustafson's "The
Jungle Book" was held over the weekend of October 10 and 11, 2009 at
Santa Barbara's historic Granada Theatre. The Sunday matinee on the
11th was filled with scores of families with children from toddlers to
Good sound quality emitted from the theater sound system for the
recorded taping of Svoboda's ballet score. The production began with
the mysterious classical piece, "Rise of the Jungle." The music had an
epic film theme quality, a typical characteristic of Svoboda's work
given his years of experience composing Czech film scores. The audience
was instantly drawn to the animal characters dancing on pointe slowly
down the theatre aisles. Then their attention gravitated toward the
stage where the devious Bengal tiger character Shere Khan, performed by
Bayaraa Badamsambuu, made an impressive grand entrance. This pivotal
first scene where Shere Khan discovers Mowgli, the young human child,
and whisks him off into the jungle, was captivating and masterfully
performed by Badamsambuu. Coming to Mowgli's rescue were his guardians
in the jungle, Raksha the She-wolf, performed by Alyson Mattoon, and
John Christopher Piel as Akela the pack leader. Mattoon brought a
gentle quality to her character with her feather light movements and
during the duo's pas de deux, their overt display of affection was
Victoria Luchkina as Kaa and Sergei Domrachev as the Monkey King
in State Street Ballet's "The Jungle Book" Photo by David Bazemore
As the python character Kaa, Victoria Luchkina performed a
magnificent solo to African rhythms and riveting vocals by
Blanarovičova. Luchkina's incredible contortionist ability mesmerized
the audience. Even during scenes thereafter, each time Luchkina
appeared on stage, all eyes were on her. Leila Drake was also striking
and sleek in her dark velvet unitard in the role of Bagheera the
panther. Interestingly, with every dancer on pointe, one couldn't help
but notice the absence of the dainty pitter patter of pointe shoes on
marley. Not many audiences have the privilege of witnessing the miracle
of noiseless pointe shoes. It was pure pleasure.
The honey-loving sloth bear Baloo, played by ballet master Gary
McKenzie, was a particularly small role, but lighthearted and sweet
nonetheless. The characters Ikki the porcupine, performed by Katie
McDermott and Rikki-Tikki-Tave the mongoose, performed by Cecily
Stewart were a cutesy pair that seemed to appeal to the children in the
audience, but their significance to the ballet seemed a little
Jose E. Gonzalez as Mowgli and Jennifer Rowe as Messua in State
Street Ballet's "The Jungle Book" Photo by David Bazemore
Dancing bare-chested in red pantaloons was Jose Edwin Gonzalez,
fittingly cast as the grown-up Mowgli with his long lean limbs and
bronze complexion. A slapstick style comedy bit between Gonzalez and
dancers David Michael Eck and Steven Jasso, portraying two grown
wolves, was playful and fun. During this scene, Gonzalez demonstrated
soaring athleticism with his high jazz style barrel turns.
Mowgli's first human encounter was with the character Messua, played
by Jennifer Rowe, a young maiden whom Mowgli falls in love with. Though
the character Messua plays Mowgli's mother in the original story, the
character change seemed appropriate for the ballet. Playing the Safari
Couple were ballet mistress Marina Fliagina and ballet master Gary
McKenzie. The seasoned artists' brought about a delightful charm during
their humorous dance and mime sequence to the cartoonish song
From a distance, Mowgli observes the Safari Couple light a fire. The
Bandar-log (monkey tribe) notice Mowgli's intrigue with the fire and
they too become fascinated. As the exciting music "Mowgli and the Fire
— the Monkey's Attack" begins, tension builds and the monkey's capture
Mowgli with the intent to make him create fire for them.
Following intermission, a 70s jazz funk style song entitled "Mowgli
— Prisoner of the Monkey Kingdom" played. The Monkey King character
Jacala, performed by Sergei Domrachev, along with six other monkey
characters, were a lively bunch. Younger children were entertained by
their silliness such as with their monkey pyramid formation. Longer
dance pieces with the monkeys fused African and jazz dance styles that
were truly fantastic to watch. With their swaying body movements and
long striding struts it was the perfect amalgam for simulating primate
Mowgli is eventually rescued from the monkeys by his friends Kaa and
Bagheera and shortly after, he sees Messua. Mowgli's animal friends
observe his longing and come to realize he belongs among humans.
Once more, Shere Khan made a re-appearance to proclaim his
domination. Mowgli and the animals rebel and a chase scene begins to
the powerful music of "The Fight with the Tiger Begins." Watching the
dancers dart back and forth across the stage doing swift grand jete's
during the chase was thrilling. When Shere Khan is finally defeated,
Mowgli realizes his fate lies within the human world. For the finale,
Mowgli appears dressed as a human with Messua at his side and he bids
adieu to his animal friends.
Visually, the production was stunning. Set designer Jean-Francois
Revon created incredible backdrops with trees, distant mountains, and
realistic hanging tree limbs against vibrant colors for night and day
Costumes by prominent designer A. Christina Giannini and assistant
Anaya Cullen, were highly original. Most elaborate were costumes for
characters with smaller roles such as the vulture whose wings were
represented by large hand held fans and two walking trees propped up on
block shaped stilts. The four peacocks in tranquil blue hues and
flowing feathers were amazing and their make-up by Brittany McClelland
— gorgeous. There were a few costumes where you couldn't quite tell
what kind of animals they were without looking at the program. Among
those were the porcupine, the mongoose, and the wolves.
Since the story is set in India, adding a few Indian cultural
elements for authenticity such as introducing some villagers dressed in
traditional Indian clothes and adding a few songs with Indian
influence, would be a nice touch.
There were a number of comical scenes where the music style did feel
a bit dated. This largely contributed to some of the rough scene
transitions. The allegro's and adagio's performed to the classical and
world music pieces were wonderful, but many of the humorous scenes that
followed disrupted the flow of the softer moments.
Some character development with the humans could have been
furthered, as certain scenes felt disjointed from the rest of the
ballet. Such was the case during a piece danced by Messua and five
other maidens. No reference was made as to whom or why these characters
were present. The farewell scene could have also been slightly more
climactic. Had there been more scenes with Mowgli and Messua
interacting to show how their ensuing love grows and more bonding shown
between Mowgli and his animal friends throughout the ballet, the final
scene would have exuded their emotional connections more emphatically.
Jose E. Gonzalez and the Bandar-log/monkeys in State Street
Ballet "The Jungle Book" Photo by Rose Eichenbaum
For such an ambitious undertaking with so many components, this
first unveiling of "The Jungle Book" was a massive achievement. Dance
companies entertaining the idea of presenting "The Jungle Book" will be
pleased to know... "I produced the ballet with the hope that many
presenters would like to bring it to their theatres. The entire
production was built to be very mobile and the sets and costumes can
easily travel," says Gustafson.
With such an engaging storyline, "The Jungle Book" is worthy of
becoming an essential staple in most dance company repertoires. Given
how much more challenging it has become to stimulate patronage in the
global dance community, particularly when it comes to promoting new
works, "The Jungle Book" could be just the right production to help
many dance companies re-build their audience.
Jasmine Rios is a freelance writer and consultant for the arts.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit minacommunications.com