INALA is a fusion dance performance of Zulu ballet set to Zulu songs sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir, accompanied by western instrumentation. It celebrates the value of community and even the most mundane activities from the passage of life. Choreographed by Mark Baldwin, the show is about unity in diversity, acceptance and the highs and lows of life. The show is performed by two distinct groups: the dancers and the choir, but throughout the show they interact and share the space together. A life-affirming show, INALA transcends cultural boundaries, especially relevant to our uncertain future with Brexit.
If one word could describe the show, it would be heart-warming. But also uplifting. And hopeful. The choir and dancers all perform with wide, happy smiles, noticeably Ashley Wilson (dancer). The choir frequently breaks down into steps which looked like freestyle dancing, their movements seemingly effortless and enjoyable. The casts’ enthusiasm is contagious, so much that I could see members of the audience tapping their knees with the beat, with me too wanted to get up and join the singing and dancing.
Despite all the songs sung in Zulu, the audience was able to connect with the themes by the exaggerated movements, expressions, music and background. Homesickness, joy of coming back home and accepting those who’ve left were the subjects of the dance. Being an international student, I could relate to these sentiments (exam season being a particularly difficult time of the year for all of us).
Other than the administrative announcements, the only other use of English was a line sung by the choir: hello trouble, bye-bye trouble, I am going somewhere. The resolve with which it was delivered made this a non-negotiable reality and was greatly inspiring. And believe me, the audience watched on silently with bated breath. Watching the show in Holborn, it is safe to assume that the majority of the audience did not understand the Zulu lyrics, but nonetheless, the philosophy of cross-cultural collaboration through the arts, and unity was effectively delivered and appreciated by the viewers.
As the sun rose and set, and the city scape expanded, I was transported from urban London to the vast plateaus of South Africa closely bonded to nature. Natural sounds of crickets, wind and the typical drums helped this, the atmosphere seemed genuine. Costumes compounded the authenticity of the show, whether this be by the traditional kurtas of the choir or the tribal skirts with animalistic head gear worn by the dancers. The curled spines, stiff crawling movements coupled with elegant pirouettes came together in a beautiful amalgamation of cultures and styles (in particular ballet and contemporary dance), making this show such a unique and beautiful sight.
What was especially beautiful about the show was how it celebrated non-conformity and diversity by incorporating a diverse cast. Each dancer is of different built and dancing background. Unlike the original Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music to INALA, the Soweto gospel choir adds female singers to the choir, expanding the vocal textures and bringing more breadth of newness. Coordination was inconsequential even in group numbers, evident from the aforementioned improvisations. Clearly set apart, the choir and dancers had their own numbers, but they shared the same space, one group setting up the scene for the next (dancers literally moving stumps for the choir to sit on and the choir in turn sharing umbrellas or seats with them). This coexistence was beautifully balanced with song and dance.
Although the show honoured the free spirit and celebrated individuality, aspects of group performances lacked coordination, and were performed half-heartedly despite the otherwise aura of merriment. There was a certain disorganisation as dancers and the choir shuffled onto the stage towards the end of the first act, the artists seemed to tire. Nevertheless, the tirelessness was managed by the impetus of the second act, tugging at heartstrings.
Despite the miniscule shortcomings of the performance I thoroughly enjoyed the show and highly recommend it to all. For all it’s worth, INALA provides a much-needed break from the humdrum of daily life and brings a burst of cheerful (yet composed) energy. And its 100-minute run time is great for a quick exam destress session too!
- 4 stars