For the final program of his company’s 28th season, choreographer José Mateo promised a world premiere. But in a burst of creativity (or “insanity,” as he laughingly confessed just before show time Saturday night), he produced two new works in a little over two weeks. Ever the classicist, Mateo was spurred by the notion of honoring how classicism in music “periodically re-erupts to be rediscovered in some new form by contemporary audiences,” he wrote in the program notes, and his new ballets play off two ways of reimagining acknowledged masterpieces. Though neither ballet breaks new ground for José Mateo Ballet Theatre or will stand among Mateo’s most memorable works, both are engaging and solidly crafted.
The centerpiece of the “New Eruptions” program is “Mozart Provoked,” set to a recording of Uri Caine’s jazzy interpretation of Mozart’s familiar Sonata in C Major for piano. Mateo’s choreography doesn’t quite match the imaginative flair of Caine’s interpretive digressions, but it taps into the playfulness of the syncopated rhythms with steps and leaps of springy bounce, punctuated by jazzy inflections in the hands and feet. For the slow second movement, Caine initially plays it fairly straight, and Mateo responds with a group sequence right out of a classroom exercise. But as Caine gradually lets the music blossom into subtle variations, soloists Madeleine Bonn and Scott Spivey loosen up as well, softening limbs and torsos. Joanna Binney opens the lively third movement with a spritely solo of fleet footwork, sashaying hips, and insouciant shrugs of the shoulder. As this new work settles in (Saturday was only its second performance), one hopes all the dancers start to have as much fun with the ballet as Binney seems to have.
“Released,” set to Busoni’s dramatic, romanticized version of Bach’s Concerto for Keyboard and Strings in D Minor, also feels a little studied, but by and large, Mateo channels the work’s effervescent spirit without sacrificing the clarity of Bach’s elegant lines. He signals key musical moments with well-timed gestures and pauses. Angie DeWolf powers through a challenging solo of blistering spins, lofty balances, and off-center attitudes, attentively partnered by Spencer Doru Keith, who nails flamboyant leaps and turns. Their gorgeous second-movement duet features dazzling, laid-back overhead lifts. It’s all the more disappointing that Mateo doesn’t let them bring the movement to its close, but rather sends them off to be briefly replaced by another couple.
The program opens with the 2012 “Taking Turns,” set to Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 4. Mateo unleashes the dancers in a swirl of sweeping curves and turns that morph into shifting lines and phalanxes in eye-catching patterns. But it’s not just cold geometry; Mateo finds the human heart in the dancers’ brief encounters with one another. Two men gently lift a kneeling woman to her feet. Three women connect and disconnect in a tight circle. Couples embrace and join hands as they move offstage.
The work is most touching in the intimate duets, especially Bonn’s assured yet compliant coupling with Ivaylo Alexiev. Mateo shows the perils of vulnerability in the edgier pas de deux of Sybil Geddes and Spencer Doru Keith. She reels him in with quick turns complemented by sharp, seductive glances and beckoning arms, falling into his arms with an exquisitely yielding back and open throat. Yet she ultimately rejoins the safety of the group, pushing him away, leaving him crumpled on the floor.