This story revolves around the unlikely friendship between an Elephant (Imbo) with a short trunk and a mouse (Eli) with an unusually long tail.

There are many versions of this story: this one is inspired by the group of PANCHATANTRA tales that are centered on friendship between animals. These stories first appeared in India over 2,000 years ago.


Yo-Yo Ma, the world-famous cellist, has been fascinated by the stories of the world from his earliest childhood. As a young boy in France (where he was exposed to the legends of La Fontaine) he went on to discover Aesop's fables, and stories from beyond the European tradition. He particularly loves the ancient Indian stories of the PANCHATANTRA, on which "Imbo & Eli" is based.



In order to create this story Preeti and Yo-Yo collaborated over a "Zoom" video conference. We recorded their conversation—and some of the edited clips are below, where each artist asks questions of the other. It's a lively and very entertaining discussion!


There are also some clips where Preeti explains in more detail some of the techniques of Indian dance that she uses in the performance. 


Click on the videos below—remember you'll need to scroll or swipe left to see all the videos.



In the video above you see Preeti use a mixed bag of facial expressions and hand gestures ("mudras").

Now let's break this down: you'll find a series of short video clips below, in which Preeti demonstrates each gesture and the facial expressions she's chosen to use.


For each one, she includes the name in Sanskrit (the classical language of India) and some further examples and applications.

"Mudras" (hand gestures) & body positions

First we'll look at hand gestures and body positions.


Every culture uses its hands for expression. Preeti grew up learning Indian classical dance (bharatanatyam) in South India where gestures are classified in minute detail. Each gesture has specific meanings and applications. And lower body positions are...

Be sure to scroll / swipe through all the videos (there are three in total).

Facial expressions & Emotion

In Indian dance and theatre, the face is a key tool for communicating emotion—Indian dancers and actors train for years to perfect their control of their facial muscles!


There are many techniques to isolate the movements of the face, which are classified as "bheda" (BAY-dah). Indian classical performer uses these in combination to create an emotional mood under what is called "saatvika abhinaya" (SAAT-vika ab-in-EYE-a).


In particular, watch these short demo videos to see how Preeti manipulates different aspects of facial expression (eyes, lips, eyebrows etc.) to create the emotional effect.



Preeti breaks down the performance

There's a lot going on in Indian classical dance, even in a short sequence such as this. In the video below Preeti talks you through how she's using the classical gestural vocabulary to tell the story.



Think you're an expert? Try this quiz!


Eli and Imbo are unlikely friends. This week we'd love you to create a drawing of animals (or people) who are unlikely friends.


Also, take a look at how our artist, Alaina Buffalo Spirit, paints and draws on top of old maps of her home state. Can you think of how you'd do something like that too—maybe drawing on top of old newspaper or an old map of where you live? What would it mean to you, and how might it change the meaning of your drawing?

Send your drawings to us at We'll publish as many as we can on this site! (And you can see some great drawings we've received so far from kids around the world by clicking here!)


The Panchatantra stories are among the most famous in the world.  Some of the stories in the book can be traced to the Rigveda from around 1500 BC. It is estimated, however, that the tales were gathered into a separate book somewhere between 200 BC and 500 AD. The work is one of the most translated Indian works. 


These fables have had great influence on literature in the West, in particular in the Middle Ages.  Folk tale motifs in the Panchatantra are found in Boccaccio, La Fontaine and the works of Grimm Brothers.




Yo-Yo Ma



Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four, and three years later moved with his family to New York City.


There, he continued his studies at the Juilliard School. After his conservatory training, he sought out a liberal arts education and graduated from Harvard with a degree in anthropology.


Yo-Yo’s career is testament to his faith in culture’s power to generate the trust and understanding essential to a strong society. This belief inspired Yo-Yo to establish the global cultural collective Silkroad, and, more recently, to set out on the Bach Project — a six-continent tour of J. S. Bach’s suites for solo cello and an invitation to a larger conversation about culture, society, and the themes that connect us all.

Alaina Buffalo Spirit


Lame Deer, Montana (USA)

Alaina Buffalo Spirit is a self-taught artist from the So'taa'ee band of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, whose work honors the women that made a difference in her life. Alaina Buffalo Spirit's artwork is based on the traditional ledger art, originated by Indian warriors who were incarcerated in the 1800s.


Using the materials that were available to them, these warrior artists recorded their powerful stories through images made on the ledger paper issued by the government for tallying and record-keeping. Inspired by these early images which depicted life on the Plains, both before and during times of conflict, Ms. Buffalo Spirit uses ledger paper made during this period in much of her work.

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We loved collaborating with online learning experts Learn Interactive on this project. 


If you're an artist or an arts organization looking to create online learning content in these challenging times, contact Learn Interactive who'll be delighted to discuss your project!