Cambridge — In José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s new program, “How Do I Love Thee?,” choreographer Mateo doesn’t so much “count the ways” as explore some of love’s complexities in three works playing off music from different stylistic eras. The program also gives Mateo an opportunity to showcase some of the company’s newest dancers.
The most illuminating work is “Timeless Attractions” (2010), set to Alberto Ginastera’s strident String Quartet No. 2. Four pas de deux highlight different relationship dynamics. In the opening solo, Mark Kehlet Schou is all macho vigor, with sharp footwork and clean turns. There’s a bit of the swaggering bully in his duet with Angie DeWolf. Their push-pull tension takes its cue from the sawing atonality of the music. Elisabeth Scherer and Spencer Doru Keith seem to be on more equal footing in their pas de deux, though the choreography never quite matches the intensity of the music. Keith keeps putting Scherer’s hands behind her back, only to free them with a flourish.
Playful flirtation colors the duet between Joanna Binney and Ivaylo Alexiev, who often dance around instead of with each other. The pas de deux between Kristy Anne Reynolds and David DuBois is the most complicated emotionally and the most interesting choreographically. Long, clean lines and sharp angles are occasionally softened by surprising curves, as arms coil and backs and necks relax. At one dazzling moment, their bodies twist together into a provocatively skewed conjoined shape. Their final swoon offers a gorgeous glimpse of connection and dependence. The finale, which brings out the full company instead of only the four couples in which we’ve become invested, seems gratuitous.
Set to just the first and second movements of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Minor, the 2003 ballet “Reverie” has a slightly unfinished feel overall. (Surely there’s a third movement brewing?) But in the meantime, Ravel’s luminous, impressionistic score has inspired compelling choreography, especially for newcomers Olga Malinovskaya and Ramón Gaitán. Malinovskaya’s classical technique is solid, with flashes of spritely flair. Gaitán sails through flamboyant leaps. In their partnership, she appears the unattainable ideal, contained and slightly distant yet with occasional glimpses of vulnerability in the arch of the back or the drop of the head. Overhead laid-back lifts have a liquid lushness. In contrast, the partnered poses for three other couples look uncomfortably stiff. Mateo effectively features six women in black as a kind of lively Greek chorus.
The overly long “Lovers, Fools, Saints and Sinners,” which the company has not presented since its 2007 premiere, is most memorable for its Renaissance-flavored costumes and early Italian music. The opening procession evokes the formal courtliness of a 16th-century masque, breaking into festive skipping dances that circle and spin. The rousing choral sections elicit high-energy ensemble work with folk-tinged flourishes, but precision often suffers. DeWolf and Magdalena Gyftopoulos charm in a playful duet of fleet footwork and coy dalliances. Gyftopoulos returns for a provocative duet with DuBois. Their backs to each other, they move slowly together with long reaching arabesques. But when they finally connect, their faces turn away, as if something forbidden inhibits their liaison. In this ballet, I wanted to see more of Keith’s golden-clad figure. He ably partners newcomer Misa Okamura, but really shines at the end in buoyant leaps that scissor and corkscrew in the air, his face wreathed in a smile.