Oklahoma City Ballet’s new season, From the Page to the Stage, opens with Mowgli: The Jungle Book Ballet, and will captivate audiences of all ages.
Mowgli had its world premiere in Eugene, Ore., in the spring, and it features choreography from creator Toni Pimble, whose work has been seen on stage at New York City Ballet.
Oklahoma City Ballet artistic director Robert Mills said, “With Mowgli, it was really exciting for me to be able to bring something to Oklahoma that is really virtually new … on the top of my mind, I can’t name another ballet company in the world that does a version of Mowgli other than the ballet company that debuted the version we’re doing earlier this year.”
Audiences expecting to see a ballet along the lines of Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, or even a children’s ballet, will be pleasantly disappointed, as Mowgli isn’t a typical ballet in any way. From the storyline — centered around a male character — to the music, Mowgli is an altogether novel and unique ballet experience.
Furthermore, ballet-goers won’t spend the show half-asleep, listening to classical music they might not particularly enjoy. The soundscape is a blend of effects created by Pimble and East Indian/jazz fusion selections.
Pimble sought to find music that was both accessible and authentic to the setting — music that would draw the audience into the story without distracting them with originality.
“Music is so important to the ballet because as a choreographer, you have to be inspired or moved by the music,” Pimble said. “I knew that I didn’t see it as working with classical music or even very contemporary music in a way. I wanted that Indian flavor.”
The choreography melds classical ballet and East Indian classical dance and is performed by dancers from eight different countries and 15 states. Yui Sato (Mowgli) and Miki Kawamura (Mowgli’s mother), are both principal dancers from Japan. Ryan Piper, who plays Baloo the Bear, is from Dallas, and Sarah Jane Crespo (Bagheera the Panther) is a Houston native.
Featured characters will wear intricate headpieces created by mask designer Lynn Bowers, and their faces will be painted accordingly. Jonna Hayden designed the brilliantly colored, East Asian-inspired costumes.
Mills said that the most amazing costume is that of the peacock.
“It’s inspired by Thailand. She has this amazing headpiece that comes to a point and stands about 3 feet above her head. She has this show tail that has, I believe, 3,000 Swarovski rhinestones on it. It’s an incredible piece of costuming. When the ballet debuted, the peacock just walked on stage and the audience started clapping; it’s that beautiful.”
However, what might steal the show are the larger-than-life puppets that represent Shere Khan the Tiger and Kaa the Snake.
The snake is 50 feet long and so large it won’t fit into ballet rehearsal space. The puppets, as well as the modern, Cubist sets, were designed by Emmy award-winner Gregory Crane of GRC Designs.
“It’s really very intellectual, very elevated,” said Mills. “Ballet aficionados are going to love this, theater-goers are going to love this and adults are going to love this.”