Santa Barbara’s always inventive State Street Ballet will open its 2009-10 season Saturday with a new — one could even say “homegrown” — ballet based on Rudyard Kipling’s children’s classic, The Jungle Book.
It will premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday and repeat at 2 p.m. Sunday; both performances will be in The Granada, 1216 State St.
The Jungle Book has been choreographed by the ballet’s artistic director, Rodney Gustafson. He worked with choreographer and ballet master Gary McKenzie to an original score by Czech composer and conductor Milan Svoboda, who flew in from the Czech Republic for the event.
The sets were designed by Jean-François Revon, the costumes by Christina Giannini and the lighting by Mark Somerfield. This dazzlingly talented team is like a guarantee of pleasure.
Now that it has been done — and done here — it strikes me as odd, to say the least, that The Jungle Book hasn’t long since been turned into a perennially popular children’s ballet in the 115 years since Kipling’s book was first published. Like The Nutcracker, it deals with the most painful of life’s transitions, from adolescence to adulthood, the transition St. Paul immortalized in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Like The Nutcracker, it tells its story through the tale of a magic journey. In The Nutcracker, the child enters a miniature kingdom inhabited by toys and mice; in Kipling, a boy is misplaced by his absent-minded parents and is raised by kindly wolves in the animal kingdom. In both tales, the superiority of the innocent magic kingdom over the “real” world is obvious and heart-breaking. There are few sadder lines in literature than Mowgli’s tearful “Now I will go to men” in The Jungle Book. But go we must — all of us.
Kipling was a great writer who goes regularly in and out of favor. The only way not to like him is to not read him. After having lunch with Kipling one day, Mark Twain said: “Between us, we hold all knowledge. He knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.” The political-minded object to Kipling’s open support of the British Empire. The high-culture mavens never will forgive him for selling so many books. Nor was his imperialism non-nuanced. His only son was killed in World War I. He did little writing after that.
Tickets to The Jungle Book begin at $20 and can be purchased at the Granada box office, 1214 State St., or click here or call 805.899.2222.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.