Smart, sexy, sensual, and powerful. These are just a few words that I would use to describe Bass Fam Creative’s latest version of Matador.
Admittedly, having seen previous versions including Matador, Matador the Show, and Matador la experiencia, I had felt that perhaps this 2023 Melbourne Fringe version, Matador: sabor de amor would just be a shorter version of an excellent show that I’ve already witnessed. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Artfully and lovingly created by Bass G. Fam, proudly directed and choreographed by Josephine Magliolo, with assistant choreography by Jordan Charles Herbert, Matador: Sabor De Amor and everything in it felt fresh, new, and exciting. From the choreography, the full use of the space within the Festival Park – The Vault venue, the gorgeous and the theatrics of the costuming, the dramatic and well-timed lighting, to even the way the cast flipped their hair.
Everything had been cleverly crafted and orchestrated to provide the perfect marriage between dance, culture, representation, circus, and burlesque. But then again, only a Bass Fam Creative show would make you feel like you’ve travelled overseas without ever leaving the ground. It was like I had stumbled into a secret special tent in Spain where money has bought and brought out the best in the business. That’s how convincing and fantastic this show is.
Instead of focusing on the Bull like previous iterations (although we do love Christopher Politis’ Bull), Matador: sabor de amor is about her – Tayla Lemon’s Matador. The show follows her as well as the other women in the production who go through a rollercoaster of emotions in their own romantic relationships. Themes are visited including romance, lust, passion, sex, friendship, infidelity, angst, heartbreak and even forgiveness. But all is executed thoroughly and thoughtfully from a female perspective.
In fact, the entire show has been reworked to focus on its female characters while still themed on different flavours of love. Maintaining its love concept much like its predecessors, Matador: Sabor De Amor still has its unique identity and vision, proudly and dynamically championing female empowerment.
Representation wise, I thoroughly appreciated that queer relationships were not only part of the show, but they were highlighted in the different love stories that unfolded before our eyes. I understand it may appear a simple thing to have two women appear in love and holding each other, or two men longing and passionate with one another, but for some, this means so much and I love that about Matador. It doesn’t shy away from anything and provides you all the emotions of what a relationship can go through without hesitation.
The entire cast are solid and despite the show’s fierce and feminist narrative, everyone impressed and nobody outshone the other. I must commend Josephine Lopes who plays Selina and was fire on the stage alone but was even more so when performing fast-paced Latin dancing with partner Mario Acosta who plays the role of Amado. Everything felt mirrored including their smiles yet their chemistry was electric and the romance between the two appeared extremely believable. And all the while, they both genuinely appeared to be having fun and living their best lives up on the stage.
Miranda D’Unienville’s extensions in her contemporary dance numbers are some that many would be envious of, and she performs as her character Lunalita so exquisitely, all the while oozing sex appeal. Her performance with aerialist Jessica Robbins who plays Estella, while both are in a metal fixture shaped as a broken heart was jaw-droppingly hypnotic. You want to give them privacy but also cannot look away. All the while, they only have eyes for each other.
Speaking of aerial, Robbins made all her tricks look easy, and it was great to see Saint Eve do some tricks of his own. Both projected such passion for their craft while still maintaining their character’s personas. I really enjoyed Saint Eve’s Javier and the way he and D’Unienville’s Lunalita bounced off each other was captivating to watch.
In turn, Edson Garcia as Nuevé and Courtney Lowe as Magenta really wowed me the way they pulled, pushed, held, and played off each other. With their unit representing the themes of temptation, I must share that I loved how they held the candle for interracial couples. Every time I watched their characters interact, it truly felt like I was somehow intruding on their intimate moments together. This is only a good thing though as the passion between the two felt genuine and their performance was flawless.
Nicolas Mena almost stole the show in the role of Sauvage. I’ve never seen a boy slay it so hard in a pair of heels as much as Mena did (and I probably never will again). No really, I was envious! I mean, I can’t even wear heels and Mena was a goddess in them while dancing to the quick, flamboyant, and viciously delicious choreography.
My personal favourite of the night though was Amarah Radford as pocket rocket Aurora. Seeing her in her element honestly left me breathless (also possibly questioning my sexuality). Her solo dance number felt immensely powerful and had me cheering for her in the aisles. The performance itself and its choreography being the epitome of confidence and femininity.
Last but not at all least, Tayla Lemon and Christopher Politis are the perfect leads as the Matador and the Bull. I’ve seen them play these roles before but considering the show being reworked, its mood and narrative change also meant that every action and interaction that these characters went through felt different, like a different shade or colour that I didn’t take notice of before. And from seeing this change, I also noticed just how much these two incredibly talented cast members have grown and transformed with their roles. Honestly, both have been perfectly cast and I cannot imagine anyone else being better for these now iconic characters.
I must also mention that the music feels like another character and dimension of Matador: sabor de amor. Not only do I want this playlist, but I am surprised there is no version of Matador where patrons are invited to dance with the cast at the end, as it was very hard not to get up and dance around to the fierce beats and tunes that have been carefully curated for this show.
I am also surprised that the show has not banked on the merchandise to provide patrons the opportunity to have a little memento of their experience that they can physically hold and take home to keep forever. But this is a minor thing and it is also Fringe! I understand that not everyone has merch during this festival.
Overall, Bass Fam Creative’s Matador: sabor de amor is refreshing, spicy and empowering. I feel so honoured to have watched this show evolve. And it’s continuing to transform! I’m in awe of the talent and passion that has been infused to create this brilliant theatrical masterpiece. Everyone involved should be damn proud.
Matador: Sabor De Amor is currently playing at Festival Park – The Vault as part of 2023 Melbourne Fringe until October 29.
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Photography by Ben Vella.