REVIEW: Life in the Jungle
WHEN SOMEBODY mentioned ballet to me, I immediately imagined tutus, girls in white or soft pink and for some strange reason a wide, open space.
As I had never seen a ballet performance live before, I decided to go watch ‘Life in the Jungle’ with my friends on January 18 held at the old Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Sarawak just to feed my curiosity and sure enough, the ballet recital performed by the students of LayNa Ballet Academy was not a disappointment.
Before the performance started, guests were treated to mocktails and some finger food as it was a black-tie Gala Night to honour the previous cast and crew of the original ‘Life in the Jungle’ operetta 30 years ago.
Although I’m a foodie, I hardly touched the food as I normally would, I was so excited about the performance that night.
When the curtains were raised, I initially expected dramatic orchestra music to start playing and dancers to glide out gracefully and fill the stage.
What I did not expect were two young men dressed in Old World British Safari clothes to appear and narrate throughout the whole performance.
The two young characters – Aaron and Harry – are explorers adventuring through the jungles of Sarawak. The funny and expressive interplay between the duo definitely grabbed the audience’s attention with Aaron, the sensible and calm explorer explaining to the excitable and somewhat naive Harry that they can hear the animals talk if they just kept quiet and enjoyed nature.
Being the opposite of Aaron, Harry provides comedic relief throughout the whole performance which never failed to amuse the audience.
The first act begins in the heart of the Borneo jungle where the introduction of various creatures in the Sarawak Rainforest begin. There’s a variety of birds such as Burung Tok Tara, Terkukur (Spotted Dove) and Semalau (Magpie Robin), insects, flowers, rhino, reptiles, monkeys (my personal favourite), fish and leopard.
Also in the jungle lives the most feared ‘Ikan Juak’ who lives in the river.
The costumes were absolutely breathtaking and really did reflect the animal the dancers were supposed to portray.
The stage was alive with the introduction of the animals and even more amazing was when the Pong Kapong (native Indian cuckoo) finally entered the stage.
The family includes Father Pong Kapong, Mother Pong Kapong and Baby Pong Kapong all living in harmony with the other animals as their sweet song makes the trees blossom bearing fruits and hence providing food for the jungle inhabitants.
Sadly, their happiness is cut short when Baby Pong Kapong is given her first bath in the river and the evil Ikan Juak suddenly jumps out of the water and bites the baby’s wing.
Shocked and outraged by what Ikan Juak did, all the animals came running towards the family to comfort them. Father and Mother Pong Kapong are devastated and set their minds on moving to Sumatra for fear of their child’s safety.
While packing, the animals try to persuade the family to stay but their efforts are fruitless. They are worried that without the Pong Kapong’s sweet melodies, there will be no fruit on the trees.
True enough, with the Pong Kapong family gone, the animals in the Sarawak rainforest go hungry. The Rhino calls upon a meeting to decide what they should do to ‘handle the economic situation’ brought by the Pong Kapong’s move to Sumatra. He appeals for a volunteer to go to Sumatra to persuade the family to return to their homeland.
At first he asks the fish, but they cannot swim in the sea as they are freshwater river fish. The snakes cannot help as they have no feet and cannot cross the sea. The leopard can run through the jungle but would drown in the sea. The remaining birds think that Sumatra is too far away. The lizards on the other hand do not care if the family does not come back as they do not eat fruit.
After a long discussion and much persuasion among the animals, the tiny and fragile insects volunteer to risk their lives for their friends to go to Sumatra. The animals cheer, and so, the insects start their journey out to sea on a floating log which drift westwards.
Upon arriving in Sumatra, they encounter Ghosts (Antu Panas) who tell them to ask the Cicada as they do not know where the Pong Kapong family is. The Cicada cannot help the insects but think that the Bat might. The Bat then directs them to Bukit Binjai where he assures them they will find the Pong Kapong family.
Upon their arrival in the Sumatran village, celebratory dancing is underway. The insects greet the Village Head (Ketua Kampong) who knows where the family is staying and immediately dispatches a villager to summon the family.
When the Pong Kapong arrive, the insects try to persuade them to return to Borneo but the family insist on staying in Sumatra.
Just when the insects’ plea seemed futile, Mother Pong Kapong suddenly remembers hysterically that she left an egg in a nest on the top of Mount Kinabalu. She suggests they take care of the egg and soon will have a brand new baby Pong Kapong in just 18 days.
Delighted by the news, the insects eagerly start their journey home to tell their friends the good news. When they finally tell the animals in the Sarawak rainforest about the news, the Rhino suggests another group of volunteers retrieve the egg. This time, both the Bat and Tok Tarau volunteer to go. Tok Tarau also volunteers to hatch the egg declaring she is in need of a restful holiday.
For 18 days the animals wait patiently to arrive and when that day did come, the egg finally hatched and Baby Pong Kapong called “Pongkapong “ and then the Fruit Blossom Fairies perform their magic dance, scattering flowers which soon develop into fruit!
However, in the midst of the happiness, there is still a problem with Ikan Juak who resides in the river. When the time comes to give the baby its first bath, Ikan Juak also wants to join in the celebration which caused a great fear and commotion among the animals.
When the Rhino accused Ikan Juak of being a criminal, Ikan Juak defended himself on the grounds that he is the King of the River and the river is, after all, his territory. Ikan Juak tells them that when a baby is going to be bathed in his territory, an offering must be made.
His conditions for a boy were that three feathers should be tied onto a spear with red thread and for a girl, red thread on three quills with a weaving stick.
He promises that once the offering is made, he would bless the child with power. For a boy, he would bless him with power, skill, health and wealth and for a girl, she would be blessed with beauty, dexterity, art and a tender heart.
The animals then prepare the offering and deliver it to the Ikan Juak where Tok Tarau is able to take the baby for her first bath.
In the meantime, the Pong Kapong family finally return from Sumatra as Mother Pong Kapong is concerned about her forgotten egg. The Rhino then explains to the family the agreement with Ikan Juak and the offerings. All the animals gather around happily to eat jungle fruits and welcome back the Pong Kapong family.
And so, the harmony in the jungle was restored and nothing ends up better than a happy ending, don’t you think?