Many of us in the UK have memories of the iconic images of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and the end of Apartheid in South Africa. At the same time, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, alongside other black artists, introduced the music of South Africa to our country and it’s powerful message of unity and talented execution was both humbling and overwhelming to anyone that was exposed to it. It is now the year 2014 and once again these immaculate artists have brought South African music to the forefront of entertainment.
Ella Spira and Pietra Mello-Pitman (Sisters Grimm productions) have achieved something very special in this extremely ‘bold’ collaboration of South African music and ballet. I had no idea what to expect on arriving at the Colston Hall in Bristol, but in the first half of the performance I began to understand that the choreography of Mark Baldwin showcased both the love and the real natural wealth of South Africa. Not only has he used his experience of tribal dance from his family’s roots in Fiji, but he has also utilised the traditional dances of Ladysmith Black Mambazo throughout performance. We also witness the younger talent of Ladysmith in the powerful song ‘Khulumanaye’ (Talk to the Girl) as the show starts to gain pace, giving us a more urban feel of South Africa, whilst the stunning ‘Usizi’ (Sorrow) and ‘Kuhle laphekhaya’ (My home is beautiful) showcases the older Joseph Shabalala’s unique vocal presence alongside his sons.
This may not be a show for ‘purists,’ and if I had any early criticism of the performance it was that in places Ladysmith seemed a little ‘over-choreographed’, which led to a stark difference between the movements of Ladysmith themselves and the ballerinas. However, these thoughts were quickly dispelled once we observed the faces of the ballerinas interacting with these outstanding performers – their smiles were of pure joy! The company have obviously revelled in working closely with Ladysmith and the often deadpan face of ballet is cast aside with both humour and skill as the differences between their skills become part of the show. The second half of the performance is a credit to the production as a whole, and the crowd really got what they came to hear. It was a very brave decision to have instrumentalists on stage throughout. The piano score was minimal, serving to enhance the choral performance and dance alongside choices of instruments such as the udu and violoncello adding to the collaborative feel.
Once again, Ladysmith Black Mambazo have broken the mould. They have brought us a collaboration that is not only a credit to themselves, Ella Spira and The Royal Ballet, but is also a timely celebration of 20 years of democracy in South Africa in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing. After all, this is the choral music that accompanied his compassionate ideology.
Photos not from Bristol performance: