‘Classical Lovers’ show their hearts

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Jacob Louis Hoover and Madeleine Bonn performing in José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s “Classical Lovers.’’

CAMBRIDGE - Flirtation and commitment, betrayal and forgiveness. . . . In honor of February’s Valentine’s Day spirit, José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s “Classical Lovers’’ brings together three of Mateo’s choreographic explorations of the emotional vicissitudes of love. Happily, the concert sends you away with a skip in your step and a renewed appreciation of romance.

“Courtly Lovers’’ (2003) is one of Mateo’s most traditionally classical works. It beautifully plays off the pristine transparency and formalism of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise’’). The gorgeous opening tableau shows a line of women connected by arms raised in V-shapes, tracing a zigzag across an angled, cloud-dappled backdrop. As the work unfolds, Mateo moves the full company through sharp lines and diagonals into vivid geometric patterns that effectively reflect Haydn’s polished structural clarity.

However, throughout the work, Mateo seeds classical ballet phrases with whimsical gestural nuances. Palms and feet flex at the ends of gracefully extended limbs. Two men high five each other before launching into a sequence of crisp turns and flamboyant grand jetés. After an ensemble of 13 women execute a long phrase in unison, they gently brush their hands together with a “that takes care of that’’ flourish.


Elisabeth Scherer and newcomer Spencer Doru Keith give a charming, animated performance as the central couple, who delight in defying tradition with playful partnering. Scherer’s sprightly pirouettes and “stay away’’ battements are belied by a coy tilt of the head and softly beckoning arms. Keith is all boyish exuberance, eager to impress and dying to please in buoyant leaps and breezy tours en l’air.

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“Schubert Adagio’’ (1991) set to the composer’s impassioned String Quintet in C, is unquestionably one of Mateo’s most stunningly elegant works. It opens with four couples illuminated in a diagonal corridor of light. The women stretch, dip, and balance, the legs bending, canting the line just so, on each pizzicato of the cello. One by one they exit, leaving Madeleine Bonn and Jacob Louis Hoover, who continue their cool, slow-motion poses, their restraint only briefly relieved by the lightest of embraces, hand cradling head, or a deep, yet fleeting swoon. But as Schubert’s music surges in tempo and intensity, reined-in passion seems to burst the two apart. Skittery runs toward and away from each other suggest an emotional turbulence neither can quite handle. Bonn vividly embodies both fire and ice, juxtaposing long-lined elegance in the limbs and upright carriage in the neck and torso with a supple back that bends into pliable acquiescence.

Bach’s Piano Concerto in G minor is so ebullient it can tempt even the heavy-hearted to tap a toe. However, as a score for Mateo’s “Back to Bach’’ (2002), it somewhat overshadows the dance, which seems a little earthbound in spots and less distinctive than the previous two works. Also, ensemble discrepancies, especially in timing, are more glaring with music as rhythmically charged as this concerto’s outer movements, though the skimming pas de chats toward the end coalesced quite tidily. Most effective was the Andante middle movement, in which couples gradually peeled away from the large ensemble for brief, lyrical pas de deux that ended with lifts that soared off into the wings.

Karen Campbell can be reached at