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Dance and Song Bring “The Jungle Book” to Life

PORTLAND FAMILY – The Northwest Children’s Theater & School (NWCT) is putting its own stamp on a venerable classic: Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” which opens January 31 and runs through March 1.

JungleBook.articleLong“This show is high energy — with big dance numbers, colorful costumes and original, toe-tapping, finger-snapping music,” said Anita Menon, who owns Anjali School of Dance in Hillsboro. “We think audiences will love it.”

This version of “The Jungle Book” is not to be confused with Walt Disney’s animated chuckle. Rather, it’s an adaptation from Rudyard Kipling’s story about a child raised in the jungle, combined with whirling, colorful, Indian dancing. It was created in partnership with Anita Menon’s Anjali School of Dance, and was adapted for the stage by Menon, Sarah Jane Hardy and John Ellingson. Hardy also directs the play.

It’s the first time that Indian dance is being showcased at NWCT.

Anita Menon founded the Anjali School of Dance in 1996 to teach Bharatanatyam to students in the Portland area. There are currently about 50 students enrolled in the school, located in Hillsboro. It has ongoing enrollment at all levels.

“This show is a wonderful balance of dance and storytelling, and includes original music for the show,” said Menon. “What’s striking about our performance is that it is told through different forms of Indian dance.”

There are three styles of dance in the performance. The first is Bharatanatyam, the most classical and studied form of Indian dance, which Menon likens to Indian ballet. There is also Indian folk dancing and Bollywood musical theater incorporated into the show.

Bharatanatyam is a 2,000-year-old Indian classical dance form that was used as a medium for storytelling. It originated in South India temples.

“Comparing Bharatanatyam to Bollywood is like comparing ballet to Beyonce,” Menon said. “Bollywood has the bright flashy costumes and popular music.

Anita Menon founded the Anjali School of Dance in 1996 to teach Bharatanatyam to students in the Portland area. There are currently about 50 students enrolled in the school, located in Hillsboro. It has ongoing enrollment at all levels.

“Bharatanatyam usually takes several years of study before one can perform something that’s audience worthy. That said, what’s so awesome about this collaboration is that the majority of our cast members have no previous training in Indian dance at all. But they are all dancers — ballet, jazz and tap — and they have been working hard to learn the classical forms and folk dances.”

The production has 21 performers, each taking on different roles, from Baloo and Bagheera, to Shere Kahn and Mowgli, the latter being played by Menon’s 14-year-old son, Avish. Menon’s daughter, Alisha, also performs in the play.

“We’ve been working since last spring to get the music, create the story, and choreograph it with Indian dance and theatrical movements,” said Menon.

“It’s a beautiful hybrid that marries the worlds of dance and theater.”

Providing a forum friendly to families with autistic kids

Not only is NWCT performing a very different interpretation of the classic tale, it is tailoring a special, sensory-friendly performance for audiences with autistic family members. It’s the second year that the NWCT has incorporated a sensory-friendly performance.

“Some of the ingredients of stage productions can make going to a live event problematic and unpredictable,” said Nick Fenster, marketing and development director for the Northwest Children’s Theater & School. “Many persons with autism have unusual responses to sensory input, and may experience seemingly ordinary stimuli as painful, unpleasant or confusing. This can be highlighted in a theatrical production.”

Some of the light cues and sound cues are removed or made milder. Ushers will also sit in front with glow sticks to cue parents that something exciting is coming up.

“Certain elements of theater, such as strobe lights, sound frequencies and light intensities are problematic for certain children with autism,” Fenster explained. “Some parents of autistic children have felt unwelcome in some social environments.”

Other preparations involve seating arrangements with more space and less crowding. “We’re also developing social stories about the production that we’re sending to the household a couple of weeks in advance,” he said. “These are picture books told in the first person, and the children can see beforehand everything that they’re going to experience.”

The one sensory-friendly performance for “The Jungle Book” will be held on February 8, as well as one for its production of “The Little Mermaid” on May 10. Oregon Cultural Trust and Umpqua Bank provided grants to underwrite the performances. Fenster said that if there’s a strong enough response, NWCT will look for ways to expand the program next year.

 

 

NWCT: “The Jungle Book”
Jan. 31–March 1, 2015
Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, Mar. 1 at 4 p.m.
Feb. 16 and Mar. 1 at noon.

NWCT is located at 1819 NW Everett Street in Portland. Free parking is available in the NWCT lot located directly behind the theater on NW Flanders. On-street parking is available in the surrounding neighborhood, but not without a lot of hunting. Please arrive at least 30 minutes before showtime.

Deston Nokes is a travel and business writer living in Portland. destonnokes.com

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