Isango Ensemble is an internationally renowned South African theatre company, based in Cape Town, which draws its artists from the townships around South Africa. Their stage productions and films have played to sold-out audiences across the world and have received numerous international awards.
The core of the company was formed by director Mark Dornford-May and music director and singer Pauline Malefane in 2000.
Isango’s productions re-imagine classics from the Western theatre canon, finding a new context for the stories within a South African or township setting, thereby creating inventive work relevant to the heritage of the nation.
The company’s first productions Yiimimangaliso – The Mysteries and Bizet’s Carmen took the world by storm. After premiering at Spier Festival, South Africa, the productions transferred to Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s East End where their season was extended due to overwhelming popular demand. The productions then went on to tour to the USA, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Yiimimangaliso – The Mysteries had two sell-out West End seasons. In 2005, the company had a five week residency in New York performing four of their productions in repertoire: Yiimimangaliso – The Mysteries, Carmen, Ibali loo Tsotsi – The Beggar’s Opera and IKumkanikazi yeKhephu – The Snow Queen.
Isango’s award-winning film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and their second film Son of Man were filmed on location in the outlying Cape Town township of Khayelitsha and propelled this historically disadvantaged neighbourhood into the international spotlight. Local residents were given the opportunity to be part of the films, and U-Carmen premiered in Khayelitsha’s O.R. Tambo Sport Centre, playing there for three weeks to excited audiences.
U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, an adaptation of the company’s stage production, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and Best Feature at the Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival, as well as garnering several awards for its star, Pauline Malefane, and Son of Man premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in the USA.
Isango Ensemble’s more recent stage productions include, The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo, which features Mozart’s score transposed for an orchestra of marimbas, broke box office records when it played in repertoire with A Christmas Carol – Ikrismas Kherol at the Young Vic in London. Together these productions won the Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production. The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo then won an Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival when it transferred to the Duke of York’s theatre for a season in the West End and the Globes de Cristal for Best Opera Production following a sold-out season at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. The production has also played Dublin, Chichester, Canterbury, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Singapore, Rotterdam, Melbourne, Cologne, Ravenna and Innsbruck. In September 2009 the company returned to London’s West End with The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso winning unanimous critical praise.
The Isango Ensemble oversaw the design, development and opened The Fugard Theatre in the District Six area of Cape Town in February 2010 and was the company in residence for the first year. During this residency their productions of The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo and The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso played in repertoire as the opening season and two brand new productions were premiered, Aesop’s Fables and most recently a new adaptation of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo.
The company’s structure embraces artists at all stages of their creative development, allowing senior artists to lead and contribute towards the growth of rising talents. They are committed to creating theatre that is accessible to all South Africans and to contributing to a more united South African nation.
Isango Ensemble's multi award-winning, The Magic Flute - Impempe Yomlingo
Trailer for the film version of Carmen, winner of the Berlin Golden Bear
Singing Summertime from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
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