“Have you seen my little bees?” asks choreographer Timour Bourtasenkov, gesturing to several children in yellow and black bee costumes during the chaos backstage at the Kahilu Theatre three hours before showtime.
The bees? They’re part of the storyline in West Hawaii Dance Theatre’s (WHDT) The Adventures of Kai Ballet. The show premiered last Sunday and has been a project in development for a while.
“We started with the concept in 2019, pre-COVID,” recalled Bourtasenkov, “and hoped to perform it in the spring of 2020. It started with The Jungle Book as the original story, but then I thought, ‘Why don’t we make it more Hawaiian style?’ So, we now have local birds and animals as characters. Everything is native. We’re trying to do right!”
WHDT was able to collaborate with author Jillian Brady on the story for Kai, which is loosely based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book but set in Hawaii.
As we’re talking, the theatre’s tech crew is making some last-minute adjustments to the lighting, songs, and cues for the 50 young dancers. In addition to the local performers, WHDT features award-winning singer and dancer Nick Hagelin in the ballet. He has trained at the school of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York City, has appeared on The Voice and Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias, and is a social media influencer with over 15 million views on TikTok.
In Kai, the boy or “man-cub” is Kai (played by Crystal Li) who is washed ashore on a tropical island after being separated from his parents when their sailboat got caught in a storm. In his journey on the jungle island, Kai encounters all types of curious creatures like Aki (Nick Hagelin), a vengeful razorback pig.
“My character has had some nasty run-ins with humans in the past, so Aki is not keen on welcoming Kai to the island,” Hagelin said, “but the local animals that have befriended young Kai stand up for him.”
“Kai also features re-imagined versions of familiar songs from [the Disney film] Jungle Book,” added Bourtasenkov. “It has a few fan-favorite songs, like when the little bumblebees come out, you’ll hear the classic ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’ but it’s a rock version.”
Some of the other characters in the performance included Nakoa, a brave panther (Rayna Morphis), and Puni (Hannah Dean), a dancing wahine who helps the jungle and everyone who lives in it to thrive. Susie Krall read the narration while Helle Fukamizu was the sign language interpreter for the presentation.
Kai opened with an acte d’ouverture featuring seven selections with dancers from the central performance. Megumi Kopp played piano on various pieces.
Bourtasenkov has a larger vision for Kai. “Eventually, we’re going to start filming Kai. We will create a narrated short film with scenes shot around West Hawaii using both professional dancers and our students. Then, we hope to show it at various dance festivals.”
What’s next for WHDT? “I’m working on another story of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but it will be more like a journey of a mongoose, Rikki Tikki Tavi,” said Bourtasenkov.
Photos: Steve Roby