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Reinterpretation of Khan's 'The Jungle Book' is lost in pictures

Reinterpretation of Khan’s ‘The Jungle Book’ is lost in pictures

Mowgli has to find his way in both the real world and in motion © APA / ImPulsTanz / Ambra Vernuccio

Here The Jungle Is The World And Terrible Beasts, That’s Us: In “The Jungle Book Reimagined,” famed British choreographer Akram Khan takes up the classics of Rudyard Kipling and uses them in a dark and hilarious essay on the climate crisis, responsibility, and cohesion. At ImPulsTanz on Saturday evening, there was a mixture of dance, games and animation that wasn’t always balanced, to the delight of the audience.

Khan sets the plot in an uncertain future in which the world seems doomed: first we hear about the burning of forests, about all sorts of horrific events, until humanity tries to escape to the higher realms of inevitably growing waters. A girl falls into the sea on a perilous journey and is washed ashore in a devastated city. The animals that set the tone now quickly gather around and present them to the board. In the end, a decision must be made as to what to do with this person.

The following is well known, but Khan and his team know how to add new aspects to a story that has been told so many times: Above all, these are the attendant conditions, as in addition to the climate disaster, the way people treat animals also comes to the fore again and again. The gang of monkeys escaped from the laboratory where they were tested. On the other hand, the clumsy Baloo – yes, this time also the beloved focus of many scenes – had to earn his presence as a dancing bear, which probably explains his Eastern European accent. What is the value of animal life in our day and age, one inevitably asks himself.

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All this is performed with a combination of the world of animated theater and ten real actors. In the Burgtheater events are dominated by two large screens that can be used for animation, installed in front and behind the performers. In this way, the girl Mowgli can come into contact with huge elephants as well as small, quick-witted mice. On the other hand, the mysterious serpent Ka, which cannot get rid of the prisoner’s shock and fear associated with glass walls, was revived by some cardboard boxes – and quite successfully.

On the one hand, it is the reduction to the basics, and on the other hand it is the charming theatrical influences that Khan uses. It is a pity that he almost forgot to dance. While many of the scenes with off-stage voices and the animal movements of the actors are more reminiscent of traditional (youth) theatre, it’s the group choreography placed at important points in the piece that really works magically. However, they make up only a fraction of the performance, which lasts less than two hours without interruption.

You also have to dispense with Shere Khan. The unknown opponent replaces the tiger, who appears to be hunting animals indiscriminately with his rifle, and who eventually bravely stands in Mowgli’s way. But the real opponent is elsewhere anyway, if you keep in mind the environmental and climate sins that still show up. Life with and for nature, as Mowgli’s mother addressed in cleverly composed flashbacks, is more necessary than ever. Akram Khan makes it perfectly clear to us, even if he doesn’t shy away from some repetition regarding the content of his message. Against this backdrop, it seems that it ultimately does not matter whether “The Jungle Book Reimagined” is a dance performance, a drama, or an animation.

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ImPulsTanz: “The Jungle Book Reimagined” by Akram Khan (director and choreography), text: Tariq Jordan, composition: Jocelyn Bock, sound design: Gareth Fry, lighting design: Michael Hals, stage design: Miriam Potter, art direction and animation: Adam Smith (Yeast Culture), Video Design: Nick Hill (Yeast Culture). Starring: Lucia Chocaro, Tom Davis Dunn, Harry Theodora Foster, Tomasin Golcic, Max Revell, Matthew Sandyford, Boy Young Shum, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jan Michaela Villanueva. Burgtheater, Universitätsring 2, 1010 Vienna. Other shows on July 25 and 26 at 9 pm. Information and tickets at