Inala: a Zulu un-ballet enchan

Inala: a Zulu un-ballet enchants London

You don’t need to be a ballet dancer to be in a ballet, as Grammy award-winning legends Ladysmith Black Mambazo prove in ‘Inala’ — a Zulu ballet now on at London’s Sadler’s Wells following a triumphant run at the Edinburgh Festival

Inala: a Zulu un-ballet enchan

There are many things that hinder you if you want to do something, but if you focus you can get there. Trouble this side, trouble that side, but say hello trouble, bye bye, I’m going somewhere.

These are the only words of English spoken during Inala, which describes itself as a Zulu ballet, currently being performed at Sadler’s Wells theatre in London. They’re attributed to Joseph Shabalala, founder of one of South Africa’s most loved musical exports, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM), and now, ballet dancer.

Well, sort of. Because to call Inala a ballet does it a disservice I feel. Yes, it has a strong balletic element, featuring as it does,  dancers from Rambert and the Royal Ballet, but those voices, that wall of sound created by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Bafta Award-winning sound designer Adrian Rhodes, sit at the heart of this production. Together composer Ella Spira and LBM have created a score not to be danced to, but to be danced with. And not just by those cast as dancers. Which is exactly what Inala delivers as dancers and vocalists move together in a kind of rhythmic symbiosis for all to feel; no Zulu required.

It has taken five years to bring this collaboration to life, starting first with the music — and this is the first time ever that LBM’s music has been annotated and printed – and then adding Mark Baldwin’s choreography.

For South African audience members there will be a particular poignancy to the production. The familiarity of the gumboot kick, the peck-peck of a chicken in the dust, even the echo of a Madiba shuffle. As we watch a village wake up, moving through the morning ritual and onwards into a city throbbing with blaring minibus taxis, our dancers, dressed in leather and sunsets,  move with the languid fluidity of Africa rather than the polished precision of Swan Lakers. Humans and animals co-habit, the latter marked out by leather and feather headdresses.  And silhouetted against an orange sky,  the arrangement of instruments across the back of the stage is reminiscent for me of a township skyline – a drum for a sun and a scattering of percussive TV aerials.

South African trained Camille Bracher shines alongside Mark James Biocca in one of the more traditionally balletic duets of the production but it is clear that the entire ensemble is on something of a buzz following the production’s recent triumph at the Edinburgh Festival. And as much as one must – and does – marvel at the physicality of the dancers, it’s hard not to be won over by the vibrancy of movement contributed by LBM, despite the advanced age of some of its members.

I watched Inala on its opening night in London at a sold out Sadler’s Wells. A standing ovation and two curtain calls I think qualifies it as a resounding success. If you’re lucky enough to get tickets, go, and for a short while, you’ll find yourself back in Africa, in all its visceral, beating beauty.

Inala runs from 17 – 20 September at Sadler’s Well’s in London and will then tour the UK until 4 October. For information and ticket details go to