Zulu music meets Western ballet in major new show

An ambitious new production will fuse Western contemporary and classical dance with traditional Zulu music.

INALA, premiering at Edinburgh International Festival this summer, features live music from famed South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and dancers from The Royal Ballet and Rambert.

The ballet is the brainchild of Royal Ballet first artist Pietra Mello-Pittman and British composer Ella Spira, who initiated the project with EIF and Ladysmith in 2010.

Spira told IAM: ‘We were interested in bringing two things together, not shoehorning them in, but uniting them in a progressive way.’

Spira worked with members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, led by founder Joseph Shabalala, to write the music, accompanied by piano, percussion and strings.

INALA, which is the Zulu for ‘abundance of good will’, is the first time that the multi-Grammy award-winning group has had their music written to a Western score.

‘But I felt it would really be a mistake to come in and impose a Western tradition and ask Ladysmith to fit into that,’ said Spira. ‘That would have been disrespectful. And it wouldn’t have worked. Ladysmith’s harmonies are so massive and rich, they need space.’

In terms of the development of Western music, there’s a phrase, which moves on to a passage and the piece develops from there,’ she continued. ‘But African music isn’t like that. We established a loop that came from traditional rhythms – that formed the basis for the score. The challenge was then to mix it up, add things, explore key changes and progress. Ladysmith was very open to trying different things.’

Ladysmith sing in Zulu and remain on stage throughout the 70-minute performance, along with nine dancers and five instrumentalists.

Spira said the narrative of INALA is South African, influenced by the country’s stories and culture, and celebrating 20 years of democracy.

‘But I think there are themes and things that people experience in different countries which are similar,’ she said. ‘We are bringing across a global message.’

The composer is hopeful that the work will also attract a diverse audience – those who are interested in dance or classical ballet, as well as fans of Ladysmith and Zulu music.

Shabalala said: ‘It has always been our mission to spread our South African culture as widely as possible, so it is very important for us to bring INALA to the UK and then the rest of the world. We look forward to giving our audiences a new experience.’

The show’s costumes have been created by designer and former taxidermist Georg Meyer-Wiel.

INALA will receive its world premiere at the Edinburgh Playhouse from 10-12 August, followed by a UK tour. 

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