Hitting you right between the eyes: Shades of Blue by Matsena Productions

with Warrior Queens by House of Absolute
Sadler’s Wells, London
May 6, 2022

Matsena Productions pack a huge emotional punch in Shades of Blue. The Matsena brothers, Anthony and Kel, equipped with finely tuned theatrical instincts, keep the dynamics effectively in motion throughout. They take considerable risks as the work follows a maverick path opening almost imperceptibly and running a series of false endings. There is no grand finale, just a political message that punches right between the eyes. It is daring, bold and essential viewing.

The cast of nine punch well above their weight, delivering whatever the role demands. They are top quality in a range of street styles, a fearsome horde of revolutionaries or a faceless queue of prisoners in grey baggies. Kel, who is also adept with a microphone, is an easy raconteur who delivers a hard-hitting message with disarming skill, and later proved himself an equally good actor and mime artist.

Shades of Blue by Matsena Productions
Photo Jack Thomson

The sequence that marks the turning point from a fine dance show to an unforgettable event, starts quite innocuously. An omnipotent voice issues the computer style command, ‘press enter,’ but shifts imperceptible into sinister requests that have Kel squirming like a humiliated child to fulfil each command. In brilliant mime, he runs the gamut from ‘smile’ to ‘beg’ and the final cruelty is undressing to exchange his pile of clothes for a prison suit. He joins the mass, trudging in endless circles, hands held behind their backs, a light throwing shades of blood red across their backs.

The lighting by Ryan Joseph Stafford, that does so much to build and shape the work, becomes a physical presence as the lighting bars descend at frightening speed to stop just short of the dancers. In rebellious unison, the dance builds in tension. Three times a woman steps on Kel’s back as he lies face down. The final time, he manages to get to his feet, the woman still on his shoulders, and throws her off. Left alone he launches into a solo of incredible moves heavy with emotion. Finally, he confronts the audience who are bathed in a flood of lights and demands an answer. We are left spellbound and speechless.

House of Absolute opened the programme with Warrior Queens making for an odd running mate. The six female dancers, beautifully costumed, battled through the choreography, which had shades of ritual and a bewildering mix of styles. It was accompanied by fiercely amplified music, played with passion by the female band. The lighting was imaginative, with visuals that took the action to exotic landscapes, but it seemed mired in romanticised legend, reminiscent of Isadora Duncan’s 1911 Dance of the Furies rather than relating to female dancers in 2022. It was a strange but thought-provoking evening.