It is more than thirty years since the South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo achieved global fame through the unorthodox route of collaboration with an American rock star. The result of that was the landmark album Graceland, made controversial by the fact that the star in question, Paul Simon, appeared to be breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the United Nations on South Africa because of that country’s apartheid policy.
In the much altered political climate of the post-Mandela years, the group, conceived by Joseph Shabalala more than half a century ago, is an established and towering feature in the landscape of world music. This year its style has been pressed into service for the exuberant touring show called Inala. This Zulu word translates as “abundance of goodwill,” and there is no doubting that this commodity is delivered in handsome measures by the Soweto Gospel Choir and ten dancers from such companies as the Royal Ballet and the Rambert. Seldom has the fuse of fusion been more conspicuously lit.
It could all have gone seriously wrong, as when opera stars try to do rock ‘n’ roll or rock stars try to do opera. If Inala has no such false notes, this is because composer Ella Spira and choreographer Mark Baldwin have found and celebrated the common ground of virtuosity shared by the disciplines of (crudely put) folk and classical.
There are moments when the compatibility between these modes threatens to become strained, only for that risk to be dispelled by the company’s defiant energy. So if there’s an initial frisson of weirdness in the spectacle of this deep, thunderous vocal score being twinned with the impeccable moves of a Covent Garden ballet, it goes the way of almost all scepticism in the plain tide of commitment.
I happen to write as a reluctant ballet watcher, being the son of a professional dance critic who saw one hundred and fifty performances of Sleeping Beauty, one hundred of Giselle and Swan Lake and so on, and who was married to a former ballet student.Taken along as a boy, I craved a story line but struggled to find it among the grands jetes and the tours en l’air. My loss entirely.
No such problems here as the narrative moves in a clear arc through the life of a community; the harmony of it, the transgression by a member, his leaving, going to the bad, ultimately returning; a redemptive climax.
More archetypal than original perhaps, but it is the telling of it that is, well, telling. For in the treatment by Ella Spira and Pietra Mello-Pittman, the two halves of the show’s production team Sisters Grimm, the unfolding of the story is achieved with great deftness and fluidity. Against the physical and sonorous backdrop of the choir, the dancers whirl and skirmish in unstoppable outbreaks of self-expression, the seeming spontaneity enabled by a fierce rigour.
As to the audience at the RAH, massively mixed in age and race, the last night of the Proms was never more exuberant than this.
Review by Alan Franks
Celebrating World Ballet Day and Black History Month, triple Grammy® Award-winning choral legends, the Soweto Gospel Choir joins guest stars from The Royal Ballet to perform an exhilarating fusion of South African and Western cultures live on stage.
Following critical and sell-out success internationally and in the West End, INALA returns with an augmented company of 36 dancers, singers and musicians for this concert spectacular at London’s most iconic venue – for one night only!
INALA promises a spiritually uplifting live experience, powered by an explosion of music, song and dance.
Confirmed dancers for INALA at the Royal Albert Hall include BBC Young Dancer 2017 winner Nafisah Baba (Chrysalis London, Phoenix Dance Theatre), Elly Braund (Richard Alston Dance Company), Joshua Harriette (Michael Clark Company, Ballet Black, Matthew Bourne New Adventures, Richard Alston Dance Company), Sharia Johnson (Michael Clark Company, Richard Alston Dance Company, Rambert), Nahum McLean (Richard Alston Dance Company, West Side Story tour), Hicaro Nicolai (Voices of The Amazon, Hoje é Dia de Maria Musical, É Proibido Miar The Musical, Ballet Jovem Minas Gerais, Voices of the Amazon), Yasmin Priyatmoko Bohn (ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble), Nicholas Shikkis (Richard Alston Dance), Adelene Stanley (Frontier Danceland) and Jason Tucker (DeNada Dance Theatre, Arielle Smith Company, Richard Alston Dance Company) and Ashleigh Wilson (Peter Schaufuss Ballet/International Arts Collective),
INALA’s costumes are designed by acclaimed designer and former taxidermist Georg Meyer-Wiel, and the show has sound design by Adrian Rhodes and lighting by Ben Cracknell.
Music by Ella Spira, Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Choreography by Mark Baldwin
Featuring current & former dancers from The Royal Ballet and Rambert Dance Company
23rd October 2019