AS ‘FIRST artist’ with the Royal Ballet, Pietra Mello-Pittman thought she knew all about classical dancing… until she saw Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Her friend, the composer Ella Spira, took her to see the South African choral legends in 2009, and she was immediately inspired to create something new.
“We were both so inspired to create a visual spectacle with them,” says Pietra.
“Ladysmith Black Mambazo represent a culture that we here in the UK aren’t perhaps so familiar with, and we wanted to show that culture off in a new way.
“We both love mixing disciplines and are particularly interested in finding contemporary ways of bringing cultural traditions into the modern day through theatrical artistic productions.”
The result is INALA, which features world-class current and former dancers from the Royal Ballet and Rambert, coming together to celebrate an exhilarating fusion of South African and Western cultures live on the stage.
Pietra says it was a challenge to bring the different styles together. “We didn’t want a show that was all chalk and cheese when it came to the different disciplines and dance styles.
“We researched each discipline and culture in advance so that we were as prepared as possible,” she explains.
“Ladysmith Black Mambazo don’t just sing in their concerts, they also dance a very intricately choreographed Zulu dance style called Isicathamiya, which is a mix of high kicks and soft rhythmical tap steps done very lightly on the balls of the toes.
“Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the contemporary trained dancers and the classically trained dancers all shared their disciplines and cultures, and then the choreographer, Mark Baldwin was able to expertly integrate all the styles, so everyone is united on stage.”
She promises a treat for all dance fans, saying: “INALA fuses the Zulu dancing of Ladysmith Black Mambazo with contemporary dance and classical ballet. There are earthy Zulu kicks alongside the lightness of split leaps from classical dance.
“We brought many different styles to the table, and this wonderful fusion happened as a result of the exchange of ideas from within the company.
“Because INALA joins so many different elements, it appeals to many different tastes. For anyone who may be interested in seeing a broad spectrum of ages performing side by side equally, we have an age range of 17 to mid 60 all playing to their strengths.”
The Brazilian-born Pietra was brought up with the rhythmic music and the samba of carnivals. She then took up ballet, tap and jazz when she came to England for her schooling.
“I loved ballet dancing, I think because initially I got to pretend I was a princess!” she laughs.
“Ballet then became such a serious hobby that I wanted to make a career of it, so at 16 I went into full-time ballet training at the Royal Ballet Upper School.”
She was offered a contract for the Royal Ballet company in the middle of her third year of full-time training, and in the 13 years that followed danced lots of classic pieces, including Swan Lake.
But she adds: “I think one of my proudest moments as a performer, was when I got to dance on the INALA tour last year!
“At the end of the show, the entire audience at every venue stood up cheering, which never happened in my 13 years at the Royal Ballet. I remember it as a very, very emotional and proud moment.”
And her advice for aspiring young dancers? “Never give up, no matter what anyone, including your teachers, may tell you! Everybody develops at different speeds and you may just be a late bloomer, like me!
“Oh, and don’t forget to stretch!”