THE JUNGLE BOOK (PA Ballet II): Ballet for kids and kids at heart

Pennsylvania Ballet II dancers in THE JUNGLE BOOK at the Curtis Institute of Music. Photo by Alexander Izilaev.

THE JUNGLE BOOK by Pennsylvania Ballet II is a kid-friendly ballet that was created especially for families with children ranging from preschool through fifth grade. Based on stories from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, the complete original ballet narrates a story of Mowgli, a young boy who is raised by wolves in a jungle. The ballet, however, is not what you’d expect from “a ballet for kids”. Every aspect—the concept, the choreography, the music, the installation, the costume and the puppetry—is very well-constructed with details and imagery. The combination rocks the viewer’s senses, regardless of age.

The story is narrated by the choreographer, Colby Damon, like a storybook. The original music composed by John B Hedges is played by the seven members of Curtis Chamber Ensemble on the stage, with of a flute, an English horn, a French horn, a violin, a cello and percussions. The tone is classical and contemporary, yet exotic at the same time like the dance music of South Asia. We feel we have never heard anything like it before, but nostalgic at the same time.

The jungle set is installed with big and vivid flowers and jungle plants made with paper or cloth. The base of the choreography is heavily ballet with highly technical steps and movements. At the same time, some movements of animals in the nature, such as wolves, a python, a tiger, a panther and monkeys, are combined with movements of ballet so that the children would feel the dancers on the stage were animals in the story and not anything else.

The nine, appealing young dancers are hidden gems. They display a strong foundation of dance training and techniques of the classical ballet, and exude energy and enthusiasm for the entire performance.

The story is not a sugar coated fairy tale. It is encouraging, fun, heartwarming, and romantic, but does not avoid hard realities of life: separation, the struggle to find ourselves, death. (One of the monkeys gets hunted and consumed by the python—not a few gasps were heard at that moment and they were not just from kids.)

The program this year included a sensory friendly performance and Spanish performance in addition to a standard performance. The ballet appeals across ages and language, providing each viewer with different perspectives and feelings.

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