José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s ‘Moving Violations’: Remembrances in movement

José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 'House of Ballet'. Photo by Gary Sloan.
José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 'House of Ballet'. Photo by Gary Sloan.

Sanctuary Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts. 
April 13, 2018. 

Dance is about innovation, originality, and creation. Just as much, it’s about tradition, remembering and paying homage. At times of transition and bittersweet endings, the latter may outweigh the former – yet both are still present. Such a time it is at José Mateo Ballet Theatre, with Artistic Director José Mateo stepping down from the Artistic Director role at the end of the run. Moving Violations offered several works exemplifying the work of this company over its 32 years. Even so, there were references to carrying the company’s legacy into the future. As usual, Mateo choreographed all the night’s pieces.

House of Ballet (1993) opened the night, itself opening with true bang, pop and pow. Dancers were spotlit just above the edge of the audience seating space, far right downstage. They moved to center stage and struck impressive poses of full extension. Developing into more continuous movement, there was a Jerome Robbins feel of suave fun and character flair. Smooth ballroom-inspired movement added personality to the partnering.

Other dancers in black, turtleneck unitards entered, graceful but assertive in their strength. They offered a Beat poet vibe. They walked in lines, en pointe but in parallel. Then came a solo ballerina (Haruka Tamura) in a fluffy, white tutu, dancing in quite a strictly classical vocabulary – an embodiment of the classical. More modernized elements of the dancers in black contrasted her classicism, such as holding danseur partners in backbend, a challenge of traditional ballet gender roles. “Star” (legs in relevé seconde, arms reaching up in V-shape) shapes and forced arch also peppered their movement with a contemporary feel.

With a bang, they triplette-ed off, their pointe shoes beats in perfect rhythmic unison. Soon, dancers in romantic tutus (long and slightly less layered) joined Tamura. They danced  – in this same classical mode – to harpischord tones, with both grace and a twinge of adversarial tension. I felt an energetic distance between them.

José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 'Schubert Adagio'. Photo by Gary Sloan.

José Mateo Ballet Theatre in ‘Schubert Adagio’. Photo by Gary Sloan.

A danseur partner joined, Spencer Doru Keith, with assemblés traveling for miles and softness in his partnering. Their partnering displayed a sense of playful coy, filled with stolen glances and dramatic shifts of their heads. Yet later Tamura collapsed unto his shoulder, and he carried her off, in stark contrast to the image of the gracefully poised partnered ballerina.

Later on, she was carried back on, raised high. through two diagonal lines of dancers – as if it were a funeral. Yet Tamura was lowered, and very much alive. Others even bowed to her. Chillingly, however, she moved with a strange zombie-like quality; was this the same dancer we first met? Nevertheless, other groups of dancers danced certain sections, characteristic of their separate styles, and then exited.

Alone on stage, Tamura moved with increasing introspection and weightiness. A spotlight dimmed down, and the theater was dark. In one sense, I wondered if those outside of the ballet world could fully appreciate this nuanced, layered commentary on the direction and fate of classical ballet in relation to younger takes on the art form. Even so, the lovely movement, inter-group dynamics, humour and intriguing dramatic tension were available for any and all to enjoy.

If that piece was an ensemble piece, then a following piece, Timeless Attractions (2010), was one of pas de deux. The first pair was Doru Keith and Angie DeWolf. They conveyed sensual connection was in partnering with phrases such as an expansive ronde de jambe en l’air into piqué arabesque and an échappé lift. At other moments, such as circling on opposite sides of the stage and stopping on a diagonal to move in place, the spatial tension between them was deliciously chilling. It was a chase.

The next pair, Lauren Ganther and Stephen James, featured less solo movement from the danseur. What he accomplished was supporting Ganther in executing her seamless, stunning lines. I did, however, wonder what he could offer – in his own movement signature and strengths – in more solo work. She applied a sense of pause to her extension, in a somehow mysterious control. In their relationship with one another was also this pause, as if they were trying to solve the puzzle of the other.

Throughout the piece was also a motif of one leg extended, the other bent in partnering. The angularity of this shape contributed to the dramatic tension in the air. A third pair, Magdelena Gyftopoulos and Junichi Fukuda, built this atmosphere further. They moved with increased speed and intensity as the same qualities built in the music.

This high energy began to de-escalate, and the pair took more time for nuance. Gyftpoulous leaned back into Fukuda’s hold, as she offered a graceful developee a la seconde, for instance. Overall, the piece paid tribute to the pas de deux form, while also acknowledging how it can grow into the future – and how Mateo has worked at both goals through the years.

The concluding piece, New Pasts (a premiere), did the same with ensemble work (with pas de deux work to compliment it). Duro Keith and DeWolf danced another pas de deux, moving with expansiveness and daring. They again built a sense of the romantic chase – coy glances, moving together and apart, and expressiveness through movement nuance.

An ensemble piece followed, the dancing clear and compelling. Yet separate shades of costumes brought my attention away from the  beautiful movement; did they have a significance? None seemed evident from groupings, formations, or movement qualities. Perhaps the various costume colors conveyed the group as a multifaceted community of individuals.

Later on, the lights lowered (Design by Matthew Breton), yet brighter light came through a rectangular opening in the set piece. DeWolf rose, to bourrée in a circle as Duro Keith walked through the light (the opening thus becoming a door). They re-joined to perform courageous and inventive partnering, such as he holding her completely inverted to have her then flip over to stand on full pointe.

At another point, she offered a graceful extension forward to then melt back into him.

This sense of riding gravity’s pull translated well into movement with more of a contemporary feel, such as a pencil turn with an elbow rising to align with the extended leg. Soon, the ensemble returned to perform movement with this classical, yet inventive feel.

To end, all dancers (in lines with window boxes, so all could be clearly seen) reached one arm forward toward the audience, in unison. This action seemed to call upon audience members, handing off the responsibility of carrying the work out of the building with them. At the same time, their dancing paid tribute to the dancing done in the same performance space over the years. Thoughtful dancing and choreography, such as that which this company offers, can reach both forward and backward.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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