Monkeys jumping on trampolines, a cunning tigress, and a herd of buffalos in hard hats. Not what you would expect to see during a ballet performance. But, Lustig Dance Theatre (LDT) isn’t interested in doing the expected. Artistic Director Graham Lustig has found his niche in the dance world: weaving storytelling and ballet into dynamic dance theatre pieces. In his new work, “Jangala”, classical Indian dance meets ballet in an urban jungle to re-tell the familiar stories found in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”.
This is not, however, an idealized version of Kipling’s often dark and realistic world of the hunted and the hunter. Created with a family audience in mind and imbued with plenty of fun, enchanting moments, “Jangala” doesn’t adhere to the typical imagery of a lush jungle and talking animals. Costumed in business suits trimmed with fur and imaginative accessories, the dancers rely on articulated movements to portray their characters. Backdrops and props designed by Howard Siskowitz bring explosive color reminiscent of an Indian sari to the production.
Hosted as a performer by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in his 30’s, Lustig traveled to Bombay, Delhi and Jaipur. “Jangala” pays homage to his long-held respect for the arts and culture of India. “No production has yet truly represented the culture in which the stories take place, India,” states Lustig. “In classical Indian dance, the artists often portray themselves as gods or animals, their movement vocabulary richly bringing to life creature spirits such as a wolf, an elephant, a tiger or a snake.” Fusing classical Indian dance with ballet, “Jangala” is a symbiotic pairing of expressive hand gestures and grace.
Working with master teacher and dancer Renuka Srinivasan, owner of Tala Shruti Dance Studio in Fords, NJ, the company dancers have immersed themselves in Bharatanatyam. In fact, the March 2 premiere performance will begin with a brief demonstration of this classical Indian dance style, helping the audience appreciate the true meshing of these dance worlds. Lustig has an instinct for finding artistic collaborators willing to help him bring his vision to the stage, and has found a true partner in Ms. Srinivasan. Her exceptional skill and willingness to embrace the vision of “Jangala” have added an authenticity to the work that would not have been achieved otherwise.
LDT’s ten company dancers will be joined on stage by select students from LDT’s Dance and Wellness Studio in New Brunswick, as well as Dr. Shobana Natarajan, a student of Ms. Srinivasan’s. “Jangala” premieres on March 2 at 7:00 pm at the Performing Arts Center at Middlesex County College in Edison. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com or visit lustigdancetheatre.org for more information. The program has been funded in part by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholds/Middlesex County Cultural & Heritage Commission with assistance thru a grant provided by New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Dept. of State.