Shaka Zulu lives

Philly Fringe 2020: Kangaroo Zulu Dancers present ‘Indlamu’

3 minute read
It’s martial, but also art: the Kangaroo Zulu Dancers perform in Durban last February. (Image via Facebook.)
It’s martial, but also art: the Kangaroo Zulu Dancers perform in Durban last February. (Image via Facebook.)

This Fringe Festival, the screen is no barrier for Indlamu, a performance from South Africa’s Kangaroo Zulu Dancers that Philly audiences experienced online. The jaw-dropping (literally) piece defies the laws of location as it draws viewers into the striking, mountainous landscape of South Africa, reminding us that perhaps dance is not best performed on stage. It also defies the laws of time, as the spirit of Shaka Zulu, the mighty 19th-century king of the Zulus, transcends the screen and captures our present virtual world.

Survival and resistance

Indlamu is the fighting style employed by King Shaka, which the Kangaroo Zulu Dancers have successfully managed to both preserve and perform. Indlamu is martial, but it is also art. With each step, kick, and flip, the audience gains a deeper understanding of the unrelenting beauty and power in which the Zulus fought to protect their land and culture from European colonization. Each beat, song, and chant becomes a testament to African survival and resistance. (Performances are available on YouTube.)

The choreography notably combines the techniques of Shaka himself with stabbing arms swiftly piercing the air, and the signature Zulu grounded stomps and kicks that strike the ground, as well as heart-pounding acrobatics with interludes of contemporary African dance moves. The choreography is both fundamental and fresh, and is coupled with the remarkable precision, grace, and technical expertise of an ensemble of women, men, and children. The kicks are a smart choreographic choice: not only do they efficiently transition into other steps, but also function as a metaphorical weapon.

Victory in war and dance

The performance is chilling, leaving no audience member without goosebumps and wide eyes, as the ancestral spirit of Shaka radiates. The drumming is electrifying, providing emphasis to each stomp and kick, and building a rhythmic montage. The montage reaches a climax during the seated canon wherein the warrior-dancers complete a series of monumental, highly technical repetitions. This signifies the interconnectedness and precision that ensured Shaka’s victories—victories that are echoed in the success of these choreographic choices.

The cinematography is effective as it brings every movement, sound, and expression to life. It relies heavily on diegetic sound, putting the audience in King Shaka's point of view as we hear the drums, bare feet, war cries, birds, wind, and insects. There are satisfying wide shots allowing the audience to witness all of the elements at once. And just when you crave a close-up of a dancer’s movement, the camera provides it. These lean-forward moments allow for even more access, letting you continue to forget the screen. You can see all of the synchronicity and polyrhythmic intricacies that are carefully executed by individual performers.

A world all its own

The dancers seem to become warriors, blurring the lines of past and present, virtual and physical, performance and war. It’s important to highlight the brilliance of this, as Shaka Zulu’s wars were not only victorious but also uniquely performative. Ultimately, the organization and complexity of Indlamu is a reflection of just how organized and complex Shaka Zulu’s society was. It is a microcosm of African culture, power, and resistance, and a world of dance all its own.

Image description: A photo of an outdoor performance of Kangaroo Zulu Dancers. Several South African men, wearing black shorts and strips of white fur on their waists, wrists, and lower legs, dance in a line with their arms lifted.

What, When, Where

Indlamu. By the Kangaroo Zulu Dancers. September 11 through 27, 2020, part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. More info here.

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