Inala – Dancers of the Royal Ballet & Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Clore Studio, Royal Opera House, 18 May 2011

Classical and Zulu go toe toe

Fernando Montano wishes he'd never agreed to re-enact High Noon with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Photo, Mallinsons Photography

Billed as a Zulu ballet, Inala is the brainchild of Sisters Grimm, the creative pairing of Royal Ballet dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman and composer Ella Spira. Together they’ve formed a unique collaboration between Classical ballet and Zulu song and dance using artists from the Royal Ballet and the world-renowned vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, best-known for their performances on Paul Simon’s historic album Graceland.

Inala is formed of a series of dialogues between the dancers and singers. The dancers weave about and amongst Ladysmith and often sit to watch them sing as though gazing on them across the South African bush. The work opens with a beautiful Classical duet from the inspiring coupling of Fernando Montaño (who catches the eye throughout the show with his cool, confident swagger) and Leticia Stock but as the work unfolds there’s an increasing Zulu influence on Jonathan Watkin’s imaginative choreography, exemplified by the introduction of Laura Morera halfway through the piece who convincingly captures the spontaneous energy of African dancing. The lively Johannes Stepanek and Yuhui Choe completed the tremendous line-up of dancers on display, opening with a particularly joyful duet.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo themselves have a nifty array of high kicks and fancy footwork and Watkins has the nine singers regularly move around the stage as an integral  part of the action. This idea of collaboration and meeting points between the two different cultures is key to the whole project: as Christopher Nunn’s excellent film that preceeded the show revealed, Ladysmith’s lead singer Joseph Shabalala was delighted when he saw the dancers ‘on tippy-toes, just like us’.

The music has been specially composed by Ella Spira and Joseph Shabalala for this production and the result is a gorgeously impressionistic wash of sound. Spira’s Debussy-esque piano is hypnotically suggestive of wide-open spaces and is complemented delightfully by Ladysmith’s sweet harmonies that leave you dreaming of a hundred thousand stars in the African night sky.

Inala is a Zulu word that translates as ‘abundance of goodwill’. Pietra and Ella’s hope is to expand this work in progress from its current fifteen minute length and run it up to a full-length ballet. This is a superb start and with some more Inala from the right people hopefully that dream will soon be realised.

Check out their web page on to find out more.

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