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Soweto Gospel Choir: INALA a Zulu Ballet at The Peacock Theatre

Adelene Stanley, Joshua Harriette, Nahum McLean in Inala - credit Johan Persson.
Adelene Stanley, Joshua Harriette, Nahum McLean in Inala – credit Johan Persson.

There’s the Soweto Gospel Choir dancing and singing in Zulu, a five-piece band lit as shadows against an African sky as ten ballet dancers performing classical steps in bare feet choreographed by the award-winning Mark Baldwin, who’s worked with Ballet Rambert as their Artistic Director and at Sadler’s Wells as resident choreographer. The question is does this mix work?

The enthusiasm of the on its feet audience at the end of the opening night suggests it does as entertainment at any rate. However, the Peacock Theatre stage is too small to separate all these different elements and, from the stalls at least, the ballet dancers of all different heights too often seem contained by the space available, the opposite of the extension beyond the length of a dancer’s limbs we dance enthusiasts are used to.

Every time the contained and agile dancer Nahum Mclean appeared he summoned welcome tone. Nafisah Baba and Sharia Johnson were appealing and ephemeral too. Another a stand out presence was Joshua Harriette who was a pleasure to watch as an individual dancer. Many of the dance duets, however, were bland, there was form but no particular communication of feeling beyond the ordinary.

Perhaps on a bigger stage, this show will work better so it’s less messy in terms of placement and the dance element can find a more comfortable relationship with the charismatic choir. At the Peacock, there’s a problem when nearly thirty people are on stage moving at the same time using different forms.

In the interval, two audience members without a programme wondered aloud what the show was about. The programme which describes the twenty-one songs in the show is however not particularly enlightening although by paying careful attention you might pick up the gist that this is a story about a village community in general and, in particular, about someone who decides they don’t fit and leaves for the city before returning home. How this narrative ties into what was happening on stage was unusually hard to understand.

The costumes were not always enlightening either, for example, there were bird style headdresses for some of the dancers though the reasons why beyond decoration were not clear.

While the band was excellent the piano was over-amplified on opening night so it overwhelmed the sound of the wonderful Soweto Choir. The choir has great charm with its range of characters as well as their famous singing ability. There’s a gloriously mellifluous duet between two male singers in the second half. The second act after the interval is generally more successful than the first, probably because there’s more focus on the choir. It becomes apparent the choir moves fluently and delightfully to the rhythms of the music they’re making. It would be worth seeing this show to enjoy the choir alone.

The described intention of the show’s producers was to avoid anything that might be deemed cultural appropriation instead forging a connection between the different cultures described here enabling the creation of a new dance language. The trouble is though while they’re all together on the same stage they remain stubbornly separate.

The opening night audience looking for energising entertainment seemed to find what they were looking for, this dance reviewer however not so much.

3 Star Review

Review by Marian Kennedy

After two sell-out runs at Sadler’s Wells, the smash hit international music and dance sensation INALA (meaning ‘abundance of goodwill’ in Zulu) makes its West End debut at the Peacock Theatre. Presenting three-time Grammy® Award-winning choral legends, the Soweto Gospel Choir, with choreography by multi award-winning Mark Baldwin OBE and current and former members of The Royal Ballet and Rambert, INALAdelivers an exhilarating fusion of South African and Western cultures live on stage.

Soweto Gospel Choir
INALA
30 Apr – 18 May 2019
http://peacocktheatre.com/

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