If José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s current “Unbridled” program is any indication, 1991 was a very good year for the choreographer. In addition to the 2002 “Still Waters,” set to the music of Debussy, the program features two Mateo works from 1991, and both are classical gems.
Twenty-three years after its completion, “Schubert Adagio” remains one of Mateo’s most gorgeous works. It is one that he has hardly tweaked at all since its inception. Wise choice. It still feels fresh and radiant. Set to the slow movement of Schubert’s luminous Quintet in C, the work opens with four couples slowly traversing a diagonal corridor of light. Through stark poses and balances leading offstage, they winnow down to one central couple, Angie DeWolf and David DuBois. The pair connects and disconnects, generating sweeping spins, swirling penchés, laid-back lifts and swoons. However, a slight resistance in their partnership suggests an element of the forbidden, and when the three other couples reemerge, DeWolf partners with another. She manages only a fleeting final touch with DuBois before following the other women offstage, duty trumping desire.
Mateo’s “Mozart Concerto,” set to the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 20, comes from a similar vein of classical purity and formalism. But this work focuses more on large group formations that coalesce and disperse. In the lovely restrained opening, 13 women in ice-blue tutus face upstage. The elegant ensemble shapes call attention to pristine details: the unison turn of heads, arms that spring gently into port de bras right on point with the music. Slowly they begin to spin and glide into eye-catching floor patterns of lines, blocks, and wedges. Though not impeccably precise, the corps brings soft nuances to Mateo’s shapes.
Despite the concert’s theme of “unbridled” passion, it’s hard to find more than abstract beauty in “Mozart Concerto,” but that in itself is plenty gratifying. However, there are a few moments in the central figure, Elisabeth Scherer, that ever so briefly suggest something more. Looking regal but clenched, and moving slightly stiffly and heavily, Scherer suggests both strength and vulnerability. At one point, her character begins to deflate before our eyes, torso collapsing, head dropping, as if bowing under the pressure to keep up appearances. But she rallies time and again into long-lined arabesques and poised balances. The work also offers moments for other dancers to shine, such as the ever-gracious Madeleine Bonn and Kristy Reynolds DuBois. I would love to have seen more of the trio of men, who emerge for a brief sequence of buoyant leaps and crisp footwork.
The concert’s closer, “Still Waters,” plays off the implied narrative in Debussy’s music, the final movement of his Nocturnes, titled “Sirènes.” Just as Debussy’s haunting score for orchestra and women’s chorus evokes the ancient myth of the Sirens, Mateo’s choreography conjures a community cavorting amid the waves, their costumes the blues and greens of sea foam. In brilliant red, Bonn seems to orchestrate the fatal scenario.
Overall, there is too much skittering — on — and offstage, in wide arcs, or hustling from mark to mark, pointe shoes clattering on the floor. But when it settles down and Mateo develops a more organic connective thread between phrases, the movement takes on a lovely ebb and flow. Four men enter the realm, showing off great twisting leaps and lifting their partners aloft like waves cresting. But they are gradually pulled down to the floor, as if overcome by the sea and the Sirens’ seductive song. It is Bonn who can’t resist one final connection, taking Ivaylo Alexiev’s lifeless hand in a brief moment of almost human regret.Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.