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FOR THE KIDS : A Heavier 'Book' : This dance-based version of the Kipling classic draws from the tale's darker original version.

February 04, 1993|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Were it not for Rudyard Kipling, generations of children would have grown up never knowing just how the camel got his hump, or why the rhinoceros has wrinkly skin.

And now, thanks to the Minneapolis-based Children's Theatre Company, Ventura County kids can enjoy another Kipling classic--"The Jungle Book." The group will present the musical production Sunday at Ventura High School at 7 p.m.

Ventura Unified School District is bringing the touring company to Ventura, and two student shows are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the high school at 12:15 p.m. Tickets for the general public are available for these shows too.

"The Jungle Book" is the story of Mowgli, the infant orphaned in the jungle and raised by a pack of wolves. Disney has an animated movie version of the tale, but don't expect anything similar from the stage production.

"We're not doing the Disney musical," said Beth Pesonen, spokeswoman for the children's theater group, which she said was the largest in the country.

The Disney version was a light comedy, often bordering on the silly. This production is heavier fare. It draws from the folklore, music and dance of India. The theater group has adapted an Indian style of storytelling, called Kathak, that incorporates hand motions and dance to move the story along, Pesonen said.

India is the setting for many of Kipling's stories. He was born there in 1865, and as a child, heard stories about the animals that hold an important place in Indian tradition. He published "The Jungle Book" in 1894 and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907.

In the Children's Theatre Company production, the jungle characters speak, but there is little dialogue. "It's definitely a dance piece," she said.

This is not a show for kids younger than 5 years. In fact, Pesonen recommends it for kids 7 years and older. It runs 75 to 80 minutes without an intermission.

The show begins with a narrator telling another of Kipling's stories, one that relates how fear came to the jungle--in the form of a tiger that kills a deer. As a young boy watches the drama and then becomes part of it, the story is sort of a play-within-a-play.

Then the action switches to 10-year-old Mowgli, the "man-cub." He is happy with his life among the animals, but the dreaded tiger, Shere Khan, has returned to the jungle. The animals fear Mowgli will be killed because he is a human.

It is the gentle Bagheera, Mowgli's panther friend, who must take him to a village of humans. Mowgli balks, but along the way he must decide whether he belongs with the animals or with people.

Blood spills during the story, but the blood is actually bits of red silk. "It's not gruesome," Pesonen said. "Kids are not coming to see Rambo."

In the Indian tradition, the animal characters wear masks and bright clothing. "We have not attempted to hide the fact that they are really humans," she said.

The music is Indian with a sort of new-age influence. "It sounds mystical," she said. "It's gorgeous."

All the roles, except Mowgli, are played by adults. Two boys from the Twin Cities area share the part of Mowgli, one touring with the company for three weeks, while the other attends school.

For the Ventura stop, Mowgli will be played by 10-year-old Siua Hafoka, whose strength is his graceful dancing ability, Pesonen said.

The set for the production is designed to look like the ruins of an old, abandoned village, which has been taken over by the jungle animals. It is bordered with enlarged reproductions of the woodcuts used in Kipling's original publication of the "The Jungle Book."

The Minneapolis theater company is in its 28th year. Each year its performers tour the country for five months with a new production. Next year the group will travel with "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."

Other Kids' Doings

Magician Shawn McMaster will pull a few tricks out of his bag for a couple of kids' shows at the Newbury Park branch of the Thousand Oaks Library Wednesday. The shows, at 4 and 7 p.m., are for kids 3 years and older. It's free and you don't have to have a library card to attend. For information, call 493-2179. McMaster has performed professionally for eight years, and he conducts magic classes for children and adults.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Minneapolis-based Children's Theatre Company will perform Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" Sunday, 7 p.m. at Ventura High School, 2155 E. Main St. Tickets are $10 for children and $12 for adults. Tickets also are available for performances before students audiences on Monday and Tuesday, 12:15 p.m., at the school. Advance tickets are available at Adventures for Kids in Ventura and at Ventura College's Community Services. For information, call 648-4767.

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