In the classic story of "The Jungle Book," Mowgli learns that "the strength of the jungle is us, and the strength of us is the jungle," not only to survive but to defeat Shere Khan.
In that spirit, Trike Theatre, Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation and Megha Rao of Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance are joining together to bring a unique night of classical Indian dance and traditional Western theater to the Walton Arts Center with a production of "The Jungle Book."
The collaboration marks an opportunity for culturally different groups to come together and create a diverse community of people.
"We are so much richer as a community when we work and play and create together," says Kassie Misiewicz, founder and artistic director of Trike Theatre. She points out that while kids in school get a chance to interact often with other cultures, that isn't always the case for adults and families.
"It's important for us to come together in these opportunities that invite us to feel like we belong to our community, our whole community, because we are stronger when we are all together as opposed to individuals," Misiewicz adds.
Megha Rao of Dhirana, who directs the choreography, echoes that sentiment by pointing out how the different groups for this production must go beyond simply working together.
For a "production of this magnitude to be successful, they have to bond with each other. And that bonding is created and developed through the process of rehearsal and practice and understanding each other -- building that rapport between each other," Rao says. "Bonding with each other is the key here."
The idea for this collaboration was inspired first by a friendship between Misiewicz and Srividya Venkatasubramanya of Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation.
"Srividya and I have known each other for a number of years; our kids both went to the same elementary school," Misiewicz explains. "When Srividya started Ra-Ve, they were looking into community partnerships. And at that point in time, I was also looking into shows and partnerships so that we could be reaching a diverse audience -- knowing that our community of folks from India was growing. And I was seeing more and more Indian American children in schools here in Bentonville."
After hearing about a children's theater company in Portland, Ore., that partnered with a local Indian dance company, Misiewicz reached out to them to learn more. They suggested "The Jungle Book."
"We settled on 'Jungle Book' as our first of many collaborations that we're going to be doing because we knew that it would be a title that would bring audiences in who may not know anything about theater or classical Indian dance [together], and we wanted to make it a real easy, welcoming title for folks to be able to come in and see the production."
Venkatasubramanya saw the collaboration as a chance to educate through exposure.
"The first step in education is exposure," says Venkatasubramanya. "Nothing can be learned theoretically all the time. We have to experience things, we have to see things, we have to hear things. So I think this collaboration between Trike, Dhirana and Ra-Ve brings together very good exposure for a lot of people here in this area."
She adds that she thinks the production will help people see that "Indian music and dance is not something that is outside of their point of reference."
"The rehearsals have been so inspiring and creative. We have multiple leaders of this rehearsal process," says Misiewicz. In addition to dance instruction led by Rao, "we have a fight choreographer who is also taking the lead. And then we also have a co-director with me, NaTosha DeVon, who has been also weighing in on the scene work and things like that. So it's been incredibly collaborative, not top-down at all. Even the kids are offering suggestions of what we could do and how we can improve the storytelling."
While the cast is mostly young actors, there are a few adults who will join them on stage.
"We also have local students that were interested in dance and theater that got selected through the audition process. And so it's not just our organizations, it's [people from all over] Northwest Arkansas taking part in it," Rao adds.
"We have one who's a full-time staff member at Trike Theatre, but the other three are local, two of whom are professional actors. Seetha [Karuppiah], who is playing Shere Khan, showed up at auditions. She was a professional actress in India and is here working with her family. This is her first show in Northwest Arkansas," Misiewicz adds.
Also joining the adult cast are assistant director DeVon as Akela, Audrey Romero as Kelia and Anna Joie as Bagheera. Anjali Nambiar, a seventh grade actor with Trike Theatre, plays Mowgli.
"I honestly feel every child in the community and every adult in the community need to watch because it's an overwhelming feeling," Rao says. "It's a joyful play, and it connects everybody's emotions together."
"We hope that this production inspires our community to create more opportunities for cultural exchange and creative partnerships," Misiewicz says.
'The Jungle Book'
WHAT -- "The strength of the jungle is us, and the strength of us is the jungle." Deep in an Indian jungle skulks the tiger Shere Khan. Mowgli, a human girl, must learn the language of the jungle to face this fierce hunter down. An original adaptation of this well-known story, "The Jungle Book" mixes theatrical storytelling with classical Indian dance. A collaboration of Trike Theatre, Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation and Megha Rao of Dhirana Dance, this performance features youth actors and dancers amid professional adult actors.
WHEN -- 4 p.m. March 25
WHERE -- Baum Walker Hall at Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST -- $15
INFO -- waltonartscenter.org/tickets/series/family-fun-series/the-jungle-book.