Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 2:24 am | Fair 56º


Margo Kline: State Street Ballet Makes ‘Jungle Book’ Swing

Company members in fine form in Sunday's production of Kipling's two-act fable

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book makes a delightful ballet, as demonstrated at the Lobero Theatre on Sunday when scores of children and their indulgent elders enjoyed the State Street Ballet’s version.

This two-act tale of a human boy raised by wolves in Kipling’s fabled jungle was choreographed by company director Rodney Gustafson and ballet master Gary McKenzie. Members of the company were in fine form — from the boy Mowgli, danced by Yosuke Yamamoto, and the Panther Bagheera, performed by Leila Drake, to Baloo the Sloth Bear, portrayed by McKenzie with goofy flair.

Gustafson spoke briefly before the performance, telling the jazzed-up crowd that the company had performed The Jungle Book in Fresno on Saturday and were back home in Santa Barbara the very next day — ready to do it again. Dancers may not be super human, but one might think they were considering the energy and panache the dancers showed in the performance.

Yamamoto is a fine dancer and a charming actor, conveying the boy Mowgli’s awakening to his primeval world. As his would-be nemesis, Shere Khan the Tiger, Lu Wang was appropriately menacing.

The dancers were well-served by the lush jungle set and the costumes, which wittily conveyed each character’s animal species — Baloo the Sloth Bear lumbering around, the beautiful wolves Akela and Raksha, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose (Cecily Stewart) and Kaa the Python, sinuously mimed by Angela Rebelo.

The ineffable Sergei Domrachev nearly stole the show as Jacala the Monkey King, with his outrageous simian gang, danced by Samantha Bell, Christine Sawyer, Cooper Rust, Steven Jasso, John Christopher Piel and David Sanders.

McKenzie and Marina Fliagina were the nerdy Safari Couple, togged out in 19th-century British pith helmets and equipped with a gun and a large butterfly net — the better to threaten the jungle denizens.

True to the Kipling era, the story has a genuine romance — a lovely young woman, Messua, danced by Jennifer Rowe, was a sweet partner for Mowgli. And he, by the end of the ballet, has grown into strapping manhood, ready to take on the real world — whatever that might be.

Especially effective were the production values: scenic design by Jean Francois Revon, lighting design and production by Mark Somrfield, costumes by A. Christina Giannina, assisted by Anaya Cullen, and costume construction by Milly Colahan.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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