Carl Marsh speaks to Swansea-based siblings Anthony and Kel Matsena, whose charged, eclectic dance theatre work is making big waves of late – including in the form of a BBC documentary about the two, showing their work on Shades Of Blue ahead of its debut this month.
I found your documentary Brothers In Dance very powerful: extraordinarily uncomfortable and tense, especially whilst watching the bits about the live performance of Shades Of Blue, but beautifully done. Was that always your intention from the start – to get across that impact?
Kel Matsena: In terms of its tension, we always just wanted to share this honest message with the work. I think at one point in the documentary, my father says: “Regardless of how painful and difficult it is, there are stories that must be told.”
As a culture, we’re learning more and more about how to deal with difficult situations – difficult conversations about ourselves or mental health, and the difficulties around us. And I think that’s a two-way thing. That’s us being more honest. But also, as audiences, I believe we are becoming more and more prepared for that.
It’s good to have conversations about the subject matter – issues around George Floyd and racism – that have been going on for hundreds of years. Even so: there’s a point during Brothers In Dance where someone raises a fear that you could both be marginalised for this work. Has that thought ever appeared in the back of your minds?
Anthony Matsena: Yes, I think I’d considered that at one point. But you know, that’s up to you, and how you – as an artist, I guess – present your work, and how many different qualities are in it. Kel and I had the fear that our work would just be about politics, or it would be about protest and a lot of anger; and people would see us as the people who make that kind of show.
But we had an amazing time making A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Welsh College Of Music & Drama. Making something so full of joy and having so much laughter showed audiences, and the people we know, that we’re able to create different work. And even within Shades Of Blue itself, when people come and see the show we’ve made, they’ll see many different sides. It’s not just loud – it has moments of relief.
So, yeah, there was a fear [of being marginalised], but I think the message was more important than that fear and just being honest about what you want to say. And I guess when you sometimes think about how you’re going to be perceived, you forget to do the work that’s required to do the job you want to do. So it’s also about recognising that, but not letting it drive the choices and decisions we want to make within the work.
Where did the idea for this latest production spring from?
Anthony: The idea came from both of us, when we were making a show called Geometry Of Fear – Shades Of Blue is a kind of child of that piece. And then, when Kel wrote a fantastic poem called Shades Of Blue, I just really loved the title, and was like, why not? Let’s change it from Geometry Of Fear to Shades Of Blue.
When it came to getting Shades Of Blue into production – the finished article people can now see on tour – what were the biggest challenges you both faced?
Anthony: I think [laughs] there were lots of difficulties… the first was obviously getting it home. The commission from [dance company of renown] Sadler’s Wells was the biggest leap forward because once you have that, you can start applying for different funds. But trying to get it commissioned was the hard part. And then, on the logistical side of things, it has been hard to sort out the studio stuff. The creative part isn’t hard! But it’s been more fun for us.
Kel: Once we got that commission, I think it was like, “OK, here we go!” But you still need to get funding to get dancers in the room and ensure that they were all paid. Finding studio space is a nightmare… and trying to get the higher lighting, getting it in the right place, at the right time. All these little things that I’d never considered suddenly started popping up, which is natural when your work is such a big step-up: all these other things support a show on the main stage.
So that’s been quite a shock, because we were like, “Oh great, we’ve got a commission, let’s start dancing!” [laughter] But no – there are a million other steps to sort out. That was the hardest part. We were very lucky to have a good team with us.
Shades Of Blue, Royal Welsh College Of Music & Drama, Cardiff, Tue 10 + Wed 11 May. Tickets: £8-£16. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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