Brothers in Dance: Anthony and Kel Matsena

BBC TWO Wales, April 23 (9.00pm)
BBC FOUR, April 24 (10.20pm)
Details and trailer

Swansea-based Anthony and Kel Matsena already have a reputation for being at the forefront of the next generation British contemporary dance. On May 6 and 7, on the main stage of London’s Sadler’s Wells, their Matsena Productions premieres their new, extended version of Shades of Blue, a confrontational work inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd.

Filmed, directed and edited by Dave Huw Jones, Brothers in Dance is an illuminating documentary portrait of the creative duo, with film of auditions and rehearsals interspersed with revealing insights into their experiences as Zimbabwean immigrants in Wales. While there are plenty of thoughtful moments, Anthony and Kel’s zest for life is never too far away.

Shades of Blue in rehearsal
Photo Mona Godfrey

The documentary is their story very much told in their words. Their dance is a representation of how they grew up, they explain. Ballet, hip-hop, breakdance, African dance, they’ve had many different influences. “It’s anything and everything you want it to be,” says Anthony. “That’s what makes it so wacky and weird, and funny, and awesome at times.”

Shades of Blue was conceived to question the relation one holds to the colour blue today: soothing for some, it can be threatening for others. With current events elsewhere, the murder of George Floyd and others (there was another in the news only last week), and Black Lives Matter, has faded into the background somewhat. Footage of rehearsal and of a work-in-progress sharing at Sadler’s Wells in January leave no doubt that the work will bring it to the fore once more and remind audiences that the issues have not gone away.

Floyd’s murder was a turning point, says Kel. “Suddenly we understood what we needed to say.” Antony recalls how there was no way to avoid what was going on, and indeed still is. “There was this deep, dark library of sadness and anger, like a scar that can never be healed.” He recalls thinking, “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to see that. But I have to.”

Anthony (left) and Kel Matsena
Photo courtesy BBC

Shades of Blue will clearly be a potent mix of dance, poetry, theatre and music, of performance and protest. It was devised with the dancers. Watching film of rehearsals, it’s impossible to disagree with writer Charlie Layburn when he describes the process as very exposing, scary and revealing.

In those rehearsals, Anthony and Kel talk about how they try to create a community, and how in individuals they look for spark, passion and drive. Choosing the right people is difficult, they admit. “It’s all about finding who is right for the work,” says Anthony.

The power of community is central to the work too. Anthony explains that, while Shades of Blue is about their personal journey and uses dance, music, text and poetry to understand how to deal with issues, it’s also about how to overcome those issues as a community rather than individuals.

A moment from rehearsals for Shades of Blue
Photo Mona Godfrey

As the brothers explain, while the work itself contains specific imagery, it is ambiguous too. The latter is important because it sparks conversation, they consider. “Some people may like it; some people may not like it. That doesn’t mean it is not necessary,” says Layburn.

The question clearly arises about it feels like to be white and dancing the work. Anthony insists that it’s not about being black or white, it’s about being a person shouting about the injustices in the world. Kel literally does that to great effect in the piece in a powerful monologue that clearly greatly affected the dancers in the studio. It reaches out through the screen but promises to be even more hard-hitting live.

The overall tone of the documentary is uplifting however. Moving away from Shades of Blue, the documentary takes the viewer deep into the background of the brothers. The clearly fun-loving pair retrace their steps, recalling their appearances on Britain’s Got Talent (as the trio, A3, with brother Arnold), and visiting the people and places of Wales that helped shape them into the artists they are today.

They talk openly about suddenly being aware of colour and encountering racism in Swansea but emphasise there are plenty of good people too. They are certainly greeted warmly as they return to their secondary school, the local market and the gymnastics centre where they honed their tricks and flicks. And they can still do them, as they show us.

The Matsena brothers on the beach in South Wales
Still from film, courtesy Dave Huw Jones/BBC

Family is clearly very important. As we watch footage of the brothers as youngsters dancing in their lounge, we hear that dance has always been a feature of family gatherings.

But there are more reflective moments too, often told against lingering shots of wide beaches and empty seas. Their journey is not one without loss and family tragedy. Going back to 2008 when the family moved to Wales to escape the collapsing economy and political issues at home, they explain that not everyone came. Two older brothers remained behind. Little did Anthony and Kel know that they would never see them again, their siblings being murdered side-by-side on the streets of Johannesburg in 2015.

It’s a sobering moment in a film that is generally bright and colourful. Despite the theme of Shades of Blue, it resonates with hope and positivity. The brothers’ bubbly personalities shine through.

As for their dance, “[It] puts what is happening in the world in a form that speaks to anyone,” says Sir Alistair Spalding, Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells. “They want to make work that really resonates, that is for an audience that wants to deal with reality,” adds Jonzi D. Shades of Blue certainly promises that.

Brothers in Dance: Anthony and Kel Matsena is on BBC TWO Wales on April 23 at 9.00pm, then on BBC FOUR on April 24 at 10.20pm. It will be on BBC iPlayer shortly after broadcast.

For more on Shades of Blue at Sadler’s Wells on May 6 & 7, and to book tickets, visit