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Love, Grief and Urgency: Composing Shades of Blue with Lara Agar

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

We catch up with composer and long-time collaborator of Matsena Productions, Lara Agar, to find out a little more about her creative process and how Shades of Blue is sounding ahead of its premiére at Sadler's Wells in May.

(L-R) Kel Matsena, Shane David Joseph, Lara Agar and Charlie Rayburn in R&D for Shades of Blue in Swansea
(L-R) Kel Matsena, Shane David Joseph, Lara Agar and Charlie Layburn in R&D for Shades of Blue in Swansea
How did you first start working with Anthony and Kel?

When Anthony and I were both in college, Guildhall and The Place ran a fantastic collaboration project which is how we met. I totally loved it. The music and dance developed alongside one another at the same time. Working with Anthony is great because he challenges me. Something clicked and during the project I got to work with some amazing musicians from Guildhall too, who are still very important to me! It went from there really!

You have worked with Matsena Productions on several projects - which has been your favourite and why?

My favourite - it’s a toss up between Shades of Blue and Anima Rose… Anima Rose was the first one we did and so exciting as I’d never worked in that way before, so it opened up a whole world for me really, not just with regards to dance but also in the way that I like to work creatively. I learnt a lot of lessons early on which have stayed with me.

There are lots of similarities between composition and choreography but somehow the way in which choreographers work, quite loose and fast, resonated with me… You have to use broader brush-strokes and leave things open to change, allow a flexibility and malleability. I like that because I’m also into this thing called indeterminacy - which is like throwing things at a wall and seeing how they fall and then you have this amazing feeling of ‘wow - I didn’t know that could happen, or sound like that!'. That’s not to say that there’s not discipline and refining that happens later: somehow at music college, in the western classical training that I come from, things tend to be overly-difficult, so it was great to enter a space where none of that matters, the conversations are about feelings and intuition… we talk about that as composers too! But in a different way, the language is slightly different…

Shades of Blue is also a favourite as it’s coming together in a way that’s been really beautiful to witness and be part of. It’s such a big team now, so feels like you don’t want to let anyone down and do the work justice. There have been so many eye opening conversations around it and it’s still evolving which is amazing.

Anthony Matsena and Matsena Productions artists in Shades of Blue. Photo: Jack Thompson
Anthony Matsena and Matsena Productions artists in Shades of Blue. Photo: Jack Thompson
Does Shades of Blue differ from previous work you’ve done with Matsena Productions?

Yes - in many ways, not in others, but mainly because Shades of Blue is born explicitly out of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, which is a huge topic and has always been an urgent conversation. I think the movement has given everyone a language to learn how to talk about these issues and grapple with them, although I still find that difficult and there is still a long way to go. I think Shades of Blue holds a lot of grief as well as urgency. It’s not clear either way and I hope that the subtlety also comes through, and there are moments of love and warmth. As the process evolves it’s clear that there are no exact answers yet…

What can we expect to hear?

Ooh! strings, drums, drones, flute! I’m blending live instruments and a more classical style with electronics and sound design to create a soundscape with lots of distortion! Overdrive…it’s quite hard hitting: the sound world is close to a Mica Levi soundtrack someone told me recently, or Olly Coates, Laura Canell. I’m really into the old school people like Pierre Schaffer, Elliane Radigiue - this doesn’t sound anything like them but I’m using a lot of music concrète, so I record things myself and then warp them and transform them using synthesis and harmonisers so you can’t recognise them so much. The sound world is pretty raw in some ways but familiar in others. It has to drive the drama on stage, the music has to give them a reason to dance, or it is pointless, although sometimes you have to let it go and give the dancers space to breathe.

Lara Agar in R&D for Shades of Blue in Swansea
Lara Agar in R&D for Shades of Blue in Swansea

Is the composition process for Shades of Blue completed or are you still tweaking?

Very much still tweaking!

How excited are you about seeing the entire work live at Sadler’s Wells in May?

Hugely excited, it’s a dream - especially given the content and nature of the work, I can’t really believe


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