By Sarah Downs
With next level artistic design, evocative score and extraordinary dancing,  Jungle Book reimagined is, well… extraordinary.  The piece recontextualizes the original narrative of abandonment, connection, and the ‘law of the jungle’, to a more nuanced tale of loss, compassion and resolve.  In this incarnation, Jungle Book reimagined challenges us to resist our preconceptions – to listen and learn.
Framed within the dire, very real circumstance of climate change and its consequences, the show begins with a cacophony of voices repeating headlines of the day.  As the voices fade, the curtain rises slowly to reveal nine sentinel forms, motionless, their silhouettes jet black against a  bright green backdrop.  A dark, extended chord morphs imperceptibly into different keys, pulling us in as the dancers slowly begin to move in unison.   In this one brilliant tableau, Director/Choreographer Akram Khan instantly states his theatrical intentions.
From this arresting scene, we are taken to the ocean and beyond, through a series of lighting effects on a downstage scrim.  Simple, evocative line drawings come alive – rain pelts the ground, birds swoop through the air, leaves wafts on the breeze.  It is utterly captivating.  This visual ‘narration’ tells us of how the girl Mowgli came to be lost at sea and washed ashore in the jungles of India.  We will follow her as she is taken in by wolves, protected from danger and comes to be trusted by the animals as the compassionate human she is.
All of the dance company are on stage almost the entire two plus hours of performance.  (They must be the fittest humans on the planet.)  I do not know how to praise them highly enough.  Gymnastic, delicate, controlled, artful, they ‘speak’ with every gesture, losing themselves in their animal characters.  Khan structures the dance in swells and arcs, tracing patterns across the floor, building to greater and greater unison.   Jocelyn Pook‘s captivating music weaves in and through the dance.
In a way, this is a tale of two plays – the visual/musical/dance performance and the script.  The former meld seamlessly.  The script, however, feels a little outpaced by these elements.   Tariq Jordan’script guides us through Mowgli’s story with general success but at times it did seem rather to lose the thread, especially in Act I.   At moments, the music overwhelmed the dialogue, which did not help.   This brings us to the issue of volume.  It’s too loud, to the extent I saw many audience members, as well as myself, subtly blocking our ears.  It began to wear me out.
Jungle Book reimagined is nonetheless remarkable theater, with exquisite visuals that bring the story even more breathlessly alive.  Michael Hulls‘ thoughtful lighting design is all fire and ice, from the very first reveal.  Adam Smith‘s bewitching white on black, animated line drawings, magically bind us to Mowgli’s story.  They are her past and present, her memory and her dreams.
The original Jungle Book told of obedience within a particular early 20th century, imperial world order, soon to be challenged by numerous wars.  Jungle Book reimagined captures that narrative within the 21st century world order.  There are different sorts of empires and different wars; our empire of greed is leading to battles to save the planet.  Perhaps if we listen to the Earth, instead of treating it as prey, we can find a way through.

Jungle Book reimagined, written by Tariq Jordan, choreographed by Akram Khan; music composed by Jocelyn Pook.

Thurs Nov 16th through Saturday Nov. 18th, at the Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY.