Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Ballet: Jungle Book Takes Stage at Axelrod 

January 31, 2019
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David Felicie as Mowgli in “The Jungle Book” at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center.
Courtesy APAC

By Mary Ann Bourbeau |mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com

DEAL PARK – East meets west in a world premiere musical coming to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center.

From Feb. 2-10, the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater will present “The Jungle Book,” a musical that is crossing cultural boundaries by combining American as well as Indian classical and folk dance.

“ ‘The Jungle Book’ is a dance-musical that fuses an exotic mix of east and west in terms of music, culture and dance,” said Gabriel Chajnik, who serves as artistic director and choreographer. “This is the first in our upcoming series of exciting and uniquely fun ballets for 2019. ‘Jungle Book’ is not your run-of-the-mill ballet. It’s a wholly-immersive experience that incorporates dazzling projection technology, dramatic sets, lighting and costumes as well as live musicians and a group of high-caliber professional dancers.”

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” is a collection of stories about a boy adopted and raised by wolves, who fulfills his quest for identity, love and belonging. The performance will feature original music by composer and sitar player Neel Murgai, who will perform onstage along with tabla percussionist Shivalik Goshal of the Brooklyn Raga Massive. Music director Jason Tramm arranged the score and will lead a small ensemble of string players.

The production features a classical Indian dance known as Bharatanatyam, choreographed by Sudha Shekhar Devulapalli, founder of the Kalanjali School of Dance in Kendall Park. Several of the school’s Indo-American students will be featured alongside the professional company.

“This is the first time an American ballet company has produced an Indian-based story and featured traditional choreography,” said Devulapalli. “Meshing South Indian classical and folk dance elements with contemporary ballet is an exciting development in the world of dance and encourages greater cultural diversity. It’s also an amazing opportunity for my students.”

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Chajnik encouraged Devulapalli to compose a short dance sequence to introduce the performance in honor of the Hindu deity Ganesha.

“It really shows how much Gabriel respects our relationship and is striving to bridge the two cultures,” Devulapalli said. “Lord Ganesha is widely revered as the god of beginnings and he is traditionally honored at the start of rites and ceremonies.”

“The Jungle Book” stars Jackson resident David Felicie in the role of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves. The production marks Felicie’s return to the stage after completing his enlistment in the Air Force.

“I knew the story growing up but I’d never seen a theatrical production nor ever heard of it being done as a ballet,” he said. “I thought it would be a cool thing to be a part of. The character of Mowgli is exciting because he’s grounded and raw. His beast-like, animalistic movements are very masculine and powerful.”

Felicie trained in various types of dance but ultimately settled on ballet. “Ballet takes a lot of discipline and determination,” he said. “I found it was the most challenging and rewarding.” He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other venues across the country as well as in Europe, but Felicie is excited to be a part of a show so close to home.

“I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to work with artistic director and choreographer Gabriel Chajnik and his team on what I consider to be a groundbreaking theatrical ballet,” he said. “Gabriel’s approach is not the norm. He and his team really take time to get to know each performer and unlike many directors/choreographers, he’s open to everyone’s input. That inclusive, collaborative approach is rare in this business, but the result is a natural, organic flow of creativity that brings forth an out- standing work of artistic excellence.”

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Tickets are $48-$54; seniors are $40-$46 and students are $26.

Arts and entertainment reporter Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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