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Review: Inala--A Zulu Ballet ****

Lorna Irvine reviews a production filled with beauty and power.

Fusing the robust, sleek choreography of Mark Baldwin with the rich vocal harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, this evocative show ties simple storytelling to abstract movement. It is accessible enough for a family audience, but no less beautiful or powerful.

The struggle for everyday survival, taking in hostile terrains, rivalry, love and loss is sung out in earthy colours, from the elegiac lullaby Siyophumelela to euphoric paean Usizi. Thulani Shabalala's voice in particular is gorgeous—a shivery instrument, backed by the incredible choir of eight. Of course we are treated to the group's famous crouching, kicking, leaping moves, freestyled in tandem with the dance ensemble. LBM's music, led by musical director Rob Barron with a gorgeous string section, can be spine chilling, funky or joyful, but the bland piano-led balladry towards the end is the only bum note in an otherwise breathtaking vocal performance.

And what an incredible ensemble of dancers—whether fluid and effervescent as a rippling human chain or showcasing dynamic soloists, they ensure the exuberance never dips, making it all look so effortless; a fusion of balletic toplines and African shimmy-shakes. Jacob O'Connell's triple spins have the audience inhaling as one, Jack Thomson's airborne solos amaze and Sharia Johnson is reminiscent of no less than Josephine Baker at her most dazzling.

The pan-global aesthetic is detailed, no more so than in the clothing, which is startling to look at. There are nods to Afro-Cuban and Antipodean art alike. Georg Meyer-Wiel's costume designs are works of art in themselves—his headdresses, which look ferocious, are festooned with bird feathers at sharp angles, ready to launch the dancers into battle or mating ritual—whichever happens first. The fetish-inspired leather shorts and criss-cross tunics are apposite for the sensuality implicit in the second half, where men and women face off. Nature can be brutal, and human nature more so.

There is a Shamanic jolt of electricity in the segment about grief, with the dancers' costumes looking decidedly skeletal—audacious and defiant, reinstating that the human spirit is resilient even in the shadow of death. All obstacles can be overcome in good time, their voices say, and that belief is only half the battle.

Inala is Zulu for 'abundance of goodwill', and tonight its language is universal, spreading to even the hardest heart.

Inala is at Theatre Royal, Glasgow until July 18 then continues on tour.

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