A unique collaboration between choreographer Mark Baldwin, dancers from The Royal Ballet and the South African choral legends
South Africa’s iscathamiya (a capella) group Ladysmith Black Mambazo need little introduction. Since featuring on Paul Simon’s Graceland album back in 1986, they have become one of their country’s most famous musical exports. They’ve also proved themselves masters at collaboration, performing with the likes of Taj Mahal, Stevie Wonder and even the queen of country, Dolly Parton.
LBM’s latest project Inala is billed as ‘a Zulu Ballet.’ It’s an ambitious work with choreography by Rambert artistic director Mark Baldwin, music by composer and pianist Ella Spira, stunning dancing from 11 young dancers – and of course, the joyful singing of LBM. The programme calls it a ‘somewhat abstract visceral experience’ – a fairly accurate description, given that there is no storyline to speak of. Instead, it’s a series of evocative vignettes portraying life – both rural and urban – in South Africa.
The show opens at sunrise with the cast of dancers resplendent in a variety of exotic bird headdresses, accompanied by some lovely, comedic, hen pecking impersonations from the nine LBM members. Some of the scenes are frankly baffling – are they squatting mosquitoes or rounding up bees for honey? No matter; indeed once I stop trying to figure out what is going on, the sheer exuberance of the dancing and soulfulness of the singing completely wins me over.
LBM are a constant presence onstage, either gently swaying in unison, performing their trademark shuffling, or engaging in some impressive leg kicks together with the professional dancers, much to the delight of the audience. One small gripe is that, besides the percussion, the piano accompaniment jars and feels at times superfluous. The best moments come with LBM doing what they do best – simply singing altogether in deep and soulful harmony.
All in all, a highly enjoyable evening and a show that is bound to yet further boost LBM’s already sizeable fanbase.
Inala is currently on tour in the UK until October 4. See www.inala.co.uk for details