Inala – Mark Baldwin & Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Sadler’s Wells, London, 11 July 2015

The joy! The joy!

All together now! 'I've... had... the time of my life.' Ladysmith Black Mambazo and dancers get ready for a conga.

All together now! ‘I’ve… had… the time of my life.’ Ladysmith Black Mambazo and dancers get ready for a conga.

It’s not often that Sadler’s Wells gets an overwhelming standing ovation for one of its shows but that’s exactly what it got for Mark Baldwin and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Inala.

Actually the brainchild of composer Ella Spira (who co-wrote the music with Ladysmith) and ex-Royal Ballet dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman, Inala fuses Ladysmith’s traditional South African vocals with contemporary dance from a collection of dancers hailing from the likes of The Royal Ballet and Rambert along with assorted freelancers. The result is an outrageously happy assault on the pleasure glands that somehow gels all the disparate art-forms together to create a truly memorable show.

There’s no real narrative to speak of – the work is held together by the singing of the ever-present Ladysmith – but Baldwin’s choreography succeeds by not presenting a diluted form of African dance and instead offering up a genuine interaction between the singers and dancers. Ladysmith already have a wide repertoire of movement as part of their stage performances (especially some dramatic high-kicking) and this is incorporated seamlessly into the professional dancers’ work which features ballet, contemporary and more ethnically inspired gestures – the section where each dancer and singer faced off against each other was a genuine meeting of cultures and funny to boot.

Inala is all about the collective and it’s this sense of community that probably gives it its appeal. Ladysmith always sing as a group and any lead vocals are kept to a minimum. Likewise, there’s no obvious principal role for the dancers, although they each get their turn to impress in short bursts. However, BBC Young Dancer finalist Jacob O’Connell particularly caught the eye; he has a gigantic leap and although his partnering needs a bit of work (he’s only 17, mind) his limb-stretching solo towards the end was beautifully performed.

Spira’s piano and percussion-led music (which thankfully steered clear of African ‘world’ music clichés) was ideal for vocal and physical expression, Ben Cracknell’s lighting helped set the tone with some great effects and Georg Meyer-Wiel’s costumes were attractively subtle.

Isn’t it great to be sat in a theatre when a show just works? Fantastic.

Inala continues touring the UK until 2 August 2015 with shows coming up in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Woking, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Sunderland. For more information and tickets go the Inala website.

Gerard Davis

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