Contemporary dance is storytelling without narrative. It evokes emotions and thoughts through movement and rhythm. It is the body that speaks, over music, over story, over costumes. Something is said through movement. I watch dancer and choreographer Anthony Matsena trying ideas with Will Bridgland and Artemis Stamouli for his piece Codi, which is part of Roots, the autumn dance tour of National Dance Company Wales. He is going through only some small sections of the piece; yet, I get a sense of his energy-infused dancing style.
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Swansea, Matsena has trained in street dance and contemporary dance first in his hometown Swansea and then London. He is now back in Wales to collaborate with the showcasing of Welsh dance talent with the National Dance Company Wales.
Before the start, Matsena asks Will Bridgland and Artemis Stamouli how their body is, that precious instrument of expression, at once strong and fragile. During a movement, Matsena says: ‘your body is much heavier in this … don’t rush, take your time.’ It’s an exercise in stretching the body but always going with the body, not against it. This seem counter to some experimental contemporary dance that seeks to test the limits of the body in an attempt to break boundaries. Matsena’s dancing style has none of that.
Matsena’s dance style is infused with energy. It is noticeable ever after watching him only briefly. The movement is fluid, broken up, tense, slow, and fast. He kicks with legs and pushes with his hands. In a duet with Stamouli, he picks her up, holds her, and turns her gently. It is a delicate and intense dance where every movement seems effortless and yet mindful. They are present in every move.
Matsena began as a teenager with Hip Hop, Krumping, Street Dancing, and African Dancing. I ask him to what kind of movements he is drawn. He tells me he is drawn to ‘highly energetic movement, variations in velocity, speed, I’m drawn to phrases and movement that have high energy.’
I ask him from where he draws his movements. He tells me they come from ‘the curiosity of the different things the body can do,’ as well as a very eclectic training. He is fascinated by how other people move. In the first week with the dancers from National Dance Company Wales, Matsena worked on exploring their different ways of moving and approaching movement. He wanted ‘something that best shows their skills, their unique experience.’ ‘The hard thing is framing it,’ Matsena tells me, ‘it’s not about teaching them to dance but to find a frame that holds those skills.’
Dancers inform the piece and are engaged because the piece is partly theirs. Matsena did not want to impose how his body moves on them; rather he wanted to find a place where different styles can coexist and are distinguishable. Contemporary dancing rests on collaboration; yet it is also a deeply personal practice that strives for personal expression, for authenticity.
‘If you’re being true to yourself, you will be authentic,’ Matsena tells me. ‘You need to use the tools that are true to you in order to transmit that idea. Then it will feel authentic. … Sometimes I don’t recognise what I’ve done but that’s because it’s new. If I set myself the task to find a new pathway, it won’t feel natural, it won’t feel authentic. … Krumping, Hip Hop, Street Dance, I know the foundations of these techniques, but if I try something new, it’s gonna feel not authentic until it’s authentic. When it sits in your body you feel it’s authentic.
Dancing in a way that pleases people, that will be liked, is not authentic. ‘Part of being a dancer is being conscious and aware, of what you are doing,’ Matsena says. Authentic dancing lies in using the dancer’s ‘unique way of viewing things to elevate them to extraordinary things, simple things.’ Simple things, like a tree, are transformed in a dance piece through the perspective of the artist and thus shift people’s perspective. A new dimension is added to everyday objects or actions.
I ask Matsena what the unique feature of dance is within the arts. He tells me that in theatre words can be limiting because they define, dance is ambiguous and each person can come away with a different insight. Yet, dance, for Matsena, should be accessible. People should be able to relate to the meaning behind a dance piece. Dance bridges, when words fail us, it’s got this magical thing that gives this physical empathetic transmission between the audience and the performer, the things that we recognise but cannot articulate.
Matsena is drawn to stories and pieces that can convey what it means to be human, particular and univesal. For Codi, Matsena sought to combine elements of African dance, street dance, and the sense of community of the Welsh valleys. Codi is about finding solidarity in community.
The best thing to do this was to do something that is closely related to Welsh communities. ‘I was looking at the Mining industry. … Once collapsed, you want to find your way out to the surface. … I wanted to make people aware of the support system around them, opening people’s eyes to everything that is around them. It is not about everything is all right. When you recover you still have the stain on the shirt from before. … If we’re trying to crawl up, how do we do that? We shape it in a way that people can find each other.’
At home, in Wales, Matsena feels free and able to create art. ‘There’s this crazy energy and freedom I get when I’m home. I make better work when I’m here. There’s a lid that is lifted when I’m home.’ With Codi, he taps in the sense of community and place that is at once particular to Wales but also universal.
Codi forms part of the National Dance Company Wales autumn Roots tour, further information can be found below.
Mold Theatr Clwyd Thursday 7 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK
Friday 8 November 2019, 19:45 BOOK
Cardiff Dance HouseTuesday 12 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Wednesday 13 November 2019, 13:00 BOOK
Wednesday 13 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Thursday 14 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Blackwood Miners Institute Tuesday 19 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Ystradgynlais The WelfareThursday 21 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Narberth The Queens Hall Friday 22 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Aberdyfi Neuadd Dyfi Sunday 24 November 2019, 19:30 01654767251
Caernarfon Galeri Tuesday 26 November 2019, 19:30 BOOK
Pwllheli Neuadd Dwyfor Wednesday 27 November 2019, 19:30BOOK