Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book uses spectacular street-dance and breathtaking circus to bring Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale right up to date in the 21st century. Avoiding the colonial overtones of the Kipling original, and the unfortunate racial stereotyping of the 1967 Disney animated film, Metta Theatre invite the audience into an urban jungle, featuring the beat-loving bin man bear Baloo, graffiti artist panther Bagheera, the skateboarding Wolf gang and Shere Khan the rapper tiger.
This fusion of street culture and dance brings out new elements in the story of the Jungle Book, meaning it is the perfect introduction to dance for young children. By rooting the narrative in characters typical of social media culture – rappers, b-boy crews, perfectly posed girls – children are privy to the nuances and complex relationships of the Jungle Book and can follow the story simply through the dance steps. Metta Theatre successfully prove that classic literature is still relevant in 2017; the struggles of power, class and stereotyped cultures depicted in the jungle translate very well to an urban environment.
The entire cast are extremely talented dancers in a range of street styles and circus skills. Kaner Scott is eye-watering and intimidating as Shere Khan with his unbelievable contortionist style of dance – his limbs even more flexible than a cat’s. Kloé Dean reflects the sophistication of the panther Bagheera with sleek hip hop moves, whilst the wolves are depicted by a more free-flowing, street style by Ellen Wolf and Matt Knight.
Nathalie Alison impresses with extraordinary strength and flexibility, performing a pole dancing routine and on the circus hoop. Alfa Marks gives a joyous, infectious performance as Mowgli with gorgeous lyrical hip hop and confident circus hoop skills.
The acting performances of the cast are not as strong as the dancing, resulting in slightly awkward, self-conscious mime and over-exaggerated expression. Whilst the dance, accompanied by some helpful narrative rap from Baloo, does convey the majority of the story, these weak acting performances occasionally make the action quite difficult to follow.
The production values are very strong, from the colourful atmospheric lighting to the intriguing costumes (designed by Kate Lane) which combine modern street style with more animalistic, Disney-fied references, such as tasselled hoodies for vultures, grey furry details for wolves, and a red playsuit for Mowgli.
Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book is a playful, entertaining experience, which offers a unique combination of classic literature, hip hop dance and circus skills. The perfect introduction to dance for young children, and perhaps a springboard for the future of narrative dance.
Metta Theatre are on tour with Jungle Book and further details can be found here.