Matsena Productions / House of Absolute review – intense, raw dance


Show caption Shades of Blue … dramatic weight. Photograph: Jack Thomson Dance Matsena Productions / House of Absolute review – intense, raw dance Sadler’s Wells, London

This double bill brings a dramatic response to racial harassment and an affirmation of female power. Together, they showcase the vibrant talent in these two British companies Lyndsey Winship Sun 8 May 2022 14.08 BST Share on Facebook

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The dancers in Matsena Productions’ Shades of Blue are constantly under siege. Spotlights search the stage, guns are pulled, there’s a perpetual sense of anxiety and relentless pressure. They’re even attacked by the mechanics of the theatre, a curtain that rises only a metre, bodies confined on the ground below; a lighting rig that plummets, flooring the dancers beneath. They are literally oppressed by the structures around them.

There’s no obfuscation about the subject matter in this powerful piece by brothers Anthony and Kel Matsena, born in Zimbabwe, raised in Wales. Shades of Blue is an extension of work they made during lockdown in response to police brutality, Black Lives Matter and, no doubt, their own life experience.

The cast of nine burst on to the stage with intense energy, projected outwards in a flurry of isolations, pops and freezes (the Matsenas’ background is in hip-hop, but they bring the same raw urgency to more contemporary moves), yet directed inwards it becomes increasingly tormented and destructive.

Warrior Queens … atmosphere. Photograph: Jack Thomson

There’s a stop and search scene, orders barked at Kel to follow. He grows ever more frantic in this sinister Simon Says: scrambling, prostrate, head bowed, trying to defuse the situation, terrified of making a “wrong” move. It’s PTSD in the making, traumatic to watch let alone experience and all credit to Kel, who carries the dramatic weight across the work.

Shades of Blue shares a double bill with Warrior Queens, from choreographer Julia Cheng’s House of Absolute. Cheng was recently nominated for an Olivier award for her work on the musical Cabaret. This is something different. As the title suggests, six strong women, feet planted wide in the earth, arms swiping and blocking like wise and fierce fighters.

More than anything this is a work of flavourful atmosphere, with brilliant live drumming from Chinese percussionist Beibei Wang. There’s something reminiscent of Akram Khan in the sense of ancient roots, mythological figures in rituals of import and portent. The dancers demonstrate speed, articulation and power – Jonadette Carpio particularly stands out – but the work could be further developed. Regardless, these are all talents on the rise.

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