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FALL PREVIEW / COVER STORY | Theater

Fall's Fresh Faces

September 04, 1997|LAURIE WINER

Welcome Msomi, 54, founding director of the South African Zulu Dance Theatre and Music Company, playwright, choreographer and director

Look for: Five performances only, Oct. 2-5 at the Wiltern Theatre: "Umabatha--The Zulu Macbeth," Msomi's version of "Macbeth" set in early 19th century Africa, in which the Scottish thane becomes the warrior statesman Shaka Zulu. Filled with drama, traditional music and spear dancing, this production has won acclaim all over the world since its debut in 1971. It's performed in Zulu, with English synopsis projected above the stage.

Why he matters: Apartheid made it almost impossible for us to see the work of black South African playwrights; "Umabatha" was the rare exception, and it won raves as it traveled from London to Italy to New York to Cape Town.

At home, it attracted many important fans, such as Nelson Mandela, who heard of the tribal "Macbeth" when he was in prison on Robben Island and promised himself he would see the play in South Africa. He did, as president, in Johannesburg in 1995, an experience he called "truly illuminating and uplifting."

South Africa's Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer wrote that in "Umabatha," Msomi "achieved a remarkable example of the unity of culture through art, across countries, beyond national and racial differences."

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