leader, jazz pianist
dirigent, jazzový pianista)
Ballet, La Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
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
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
with a superb cast. The dancers gave life to Mowgli the Jungle Boy
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
in dress-up clothes, who sat mesmerized throughout the ballet’s
two hours. The noise came at the end, with the kids and their
companions roaring their appreciation.
Mowgli as a young man was danced by Jose Edwin Gonzalez, a
from Colombia who brings superior acting skills as well as dancing
mastery to the State Street company. Portraying Mowgli as a young
was Joel Sterken. The young Mowgli’s wolf cub friends were danced
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
Bayaraa Badamsambuu. He is one of the company’s two Russian
trained with Perm Ballet and bring genuine brilliance to their
performances. The other Perm alumnus is Sergei Domrachev, who
the Monkey King with his customary bravura style. These two are
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,
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
McKenzie as Baloo, the large but not scary Sloth Bear.
Kipling being a proper Victorian man couldn’t just leave Mowgli to
wild in the jungle, so he introduced the human girl Messua, danced
lovely Jennifer Rowe. An obnoxious/hilarious “safari couple” were
portrayed by Marina Fliagina and Gary McKenzie, complete with
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,
vocalist Yvetta Blanarovicova. Jean-Francois Revon created the
design, and the sets were painted by Serena Shanary and Ismael
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
Theater in New York and the Ballet National of Caracas,
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,
has been warmly welcomed as far away as Mainland China. The
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
Brings Wild Animals to the Stage
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Granada was packed with spectators last Sunday afternoon
State Street Ballet's matinee production of The Jungle Book.
Many in the audience were children, some of whom were clad in
print clothing celebrating their favorite characters. A few may
been aspiring ballerinas, but you didn't have to be one to enjoy
fun of this show. Although it contained some somber moments, the
production’s overarching mood was playful, and the
A. Christina Giannini’s stunning, elaborate animal costumes—made
superb show of skill throughout the performance. The backdrop
fixed, but set designers used colored lights to create changes
from the silky, sophisticated movements of Leila Drake as
panther to the raucous buffoonery of the monkeys, led by Sergei
Domrachev as their king.
Delighted squeals from the audience confirmed their
Rodney Gustafson and Gary McKenzie's choreography, particularly
solo performances by Jose Edwin Gonzalez, who played Mowgli. He
missed a beat, performing seemingly endless jumps, spins, and
across the stage, and pulled off a couple of marvelous scenes
fair maiden Messua, played by Jennifer Rowe. Some of the
scenes involving many characters were a bit confusing, but the
girls who danced with Rowe brought harmony to their ensemble
Victoria Luchkina, in the role of Kaa the snake, delivered a
standout performance, seamlessly transitioning from one
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
fanciful drama of Rudyard Kipling's classic tale. Relationships
alliances unfolded, and in the end, all of the characters
help Mowgli defeat the evil tiger Shere Khan—played by Bayaraa
Badamsambuu—leaving the young audience with a notion that it's
join forces when facing a big challenge. With only one month to
for this show, State Street Ballet’s dancers certainly modeled
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
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
to expect. I knew that The Jungle Book would not likely be a
traditional ballet of precision moves and pink tutus. In fact,
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
decided to simply enjoy the show, it was great.
The costumes were fun, the performers were engaging and athletic
the music set the tone.
I recommend: Read the synopsis in the program to help you engage
the story line.
State Street Ballet's "The
A Novel Idea for a Ballet
Quaint Santa Barbara is home of the prestigious State Street
(SSB)—a company whose fifteen year longevity has augmented a
local audience and international acclaim. Under the artistic
of Rodney Gustafson, founder of SSB, the company has
flourished. Over the last year, Gustafson has fully immersed
the creation of a new full-length ballet that has audience
written all over it. The production: "The Jungle Book" based on
Kipling's classic tale.
Jose E. Gonzalez and Victoria Luchkina, "The Jungle
Street Ballet Photo by David Bazemore
Gustafson became inspired during a visit to New York. "I saw
Disney version of 'Tarzan' on Broadway a few years ago and was
fascinated by the choreography for the monkeys. Shortly after, I
approached by Milan [conductor/composer Milan Svoboda] who
full-length 'Jungle Book' for the ballet company of the National
Theatre in Prague. Mr. Svoboda had heard about State Street
history of creating original works and asked if I would be
in producing my own version to his music."
The choreography was a collaborative effort between Gustafson
SSB ballet master Gary McKenzie. They incorporated several dance
that were just as varied as the music. The compilation consists
classical music performed by the Symphonic Orchestra of the
Theatre in Prague, jazz music performed by Svoboda's Jazz
and world fusion music by various guest artists including Czech
vocalist Yvetta Blanarovičova. The world premiere of Gustafson's
Jungle Book" was held over the weekend of October 10 and 11,
Santa Barbara's historic Granada Theatre. The Sunday matinee on
11th was filled with scores of families with children from
Good sound quality emitted from the theater sound system for
recorded taping of Svoboda's ballet score. The production began
the mysterious classical piece, "Rise of the Jungle." The music
epic film theme quality, a typical characteristic of Svoboda's
given his years of experience composing Czech film scores. The
was instantly drawn to the animal characters dancing on pointe
down the theatre aisles. Then their attention gravitated toward
stage where the devious Bengal tiger character Shere Khan,
Bayaraa Badamsambuu, made an impressive grand entrance. This
first scene where Shere Khan discovers Mowgli, the young human
and whisks him off into the jungle, was captivating and
performed by Badamsambuu. Coming to Mowgli's rescue were his
in the jungle, Raksha the She-wolf, performed by Alyson Mattoon,
John Christopher Piel as Akela the pack leader. Mattoon brought
gentle quality to her character with her feather light movements
during the duo's pas de deux, their overt display of affection
Victoria Luchkina as Kaa and Sergei Domrachev as the
in State Street Ballet's "The Jungle Book" Photo by David
As the python character Kaa, Victoria Luchkina performed a
magnificent solo to African rhythms and riveting vocals by
Blanarovičova. Luchkina's incredible contortionist ability
the audience. Even during scenes thereafter, each time Luchkina
appeared on stage, all eyes were on her. Leila Drake was also
and sleek in her dark velvet unitard in the role of Bagheera the
panther. Interestingly, with every dancer on pointe, one
but notice the absence of the dainty pitter patter of pointe
marley. Not many audiences have the privilege of witnessing the
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
nonetheless. The characters Ikki the porcupine, performed by
McDermott and Rikki-Tikki-Tave the mongoose, performed by Cecily
Stewart were a cutesy pair that seemed to appeal to the children
audience, but their significance to the ballet seemed a little
Jose E. Gonzalez as Mowgli and Jennifer Rowe as Messua in
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
bronze complexion. A slapstick style comedy bit between Gonzalez
dancers David Michael Eck and Steven Jasso, portraying two grown
wolves, was playful and fun. During this scene, Gonzalez
soaring athleticism with his high jazz style barrel turns.
Mowgli's first human encounter was with the character Messua,
by Jennifer Rowe, a young maiden whom Mowgli falls in love with.
the character Messua plays Mowgli's mother in the original
character change seemed appropriate for the ballet. Playing the
Couple were ballet mistress Marina Fliagina and ballet master
McKenzie. The seasoned artists' brought about a delightful charm
their humorous dance and mime sequence to the cartoonish song
From a distance, Mowgli observes the Safari Couple light a
Bandar-log (monkey tribe) notice Mowgli's intrigue with the fire
they too become fascinated. As the exciting music "Mowgli and
— the Monkey's Attack" begins, tension builds and the monkey's
Mowgli with the intent to make him create fire for them.
Following intermission, a 70s jazz funk style song entitled
— Prisoner of the Monkey Kingdom" played. The Monkey King
Jacala, performed by Sergei Domrachev, along with six other
characters, were a lively bunch. Younger children were
their silliness such as with their monkey pyramid formation.
dance pieces with the monkeys fused African and jazz dance
were truly fantastic to watch. With their swaying body movements
long striding struts it was the perfect amalgam for simulating
Mowgli is eventually rescued from the monkeys by his friends
Bagheera and shortly after, he sees Messua. Mowgli's animal
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
the powerful music of "The Fight with the Tiger Begins."
dancers dart back and forth across the stage doing swift grand
during the chase was thrilling. When Shere Khan is finally
Mowgli realizes his fate lies within the human world. For the
Mowgli appears dressed as a human with Messua at his side and he
adieu to his animal friends.
Visually, the production was stunning. Set designer
Revon created incredible backdrops with trees, distant
realistic hanging tree limbs against vibrant colors for night
Costumes by prominent designer A. Christina Giannini and
Anaya Cullen, were highly original. Most elaborate were costumes
characters with smaller roles such as the vulture whose wings
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
— gorgeous. There were a few costumes where you couldn't quite
what kind of animals they were without looking at the program.
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
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
a bit dated. This largely contributed to some of the rough scene
transitions. The allegro's and adagio's performed to the
world music pieces were wonderful, but many of the humorous
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
ballet. Such was the case during a piece danced by Messua and
other maidens. No reference was made as to whom or why these
were present. The farewell scene could have also been slightly
climactic. Had there been more scenes with Mowgli and Messua
interacting to show how their ensuing love grows and more
between Mowgli and his animal friends throughout the ballet, the
scene would have exuded their emotional connections more
Jose E. Gonzalez and the Bandar-log/monkeys in State
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.
companies entertaining the idea of presenting "The Jungle Book"
pleased to know... "I produced the ballet with the hope that
presenters would like to bring it to their theatres. The entire
production was built to be very mobile and the sets and costumes
easily travel," says Gustafson.
With such an engaging storyline, "The Jungle Book" is worthy of
becoming an essential staple in most dance company repertoires.
how much more challenging it has become to stimulate patronage
global dance community, particularly when it comes to promoting
works, "The Jungle Book" could be just the right production to
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