Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 6:46 am | Overcast 64º


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.

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