CAMBRIDGE — For the final concert of his company’s 29th season, choreographer José Mateo set about to craft a program designed to highlight three dances choreographed in different phases of José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s history, each set to music of markedly contrasting styles. Mission accomplished. Friday night’s “Suspicious Spaces” embraced choreography spanning 22 years and music going back more than 200 years to create a diverse, well-paced program.
The new “1796” is set to the oldest music but offers the freshest glimpse of Mateo’s distinctive neo-classic style. Given its world premiere, “1796” is fueled by Beethoven’s early Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor — the ballet’s title reflects the year of the music’s composition. Cast for only seven dancers, it offers a welcome contrast from the two other full ensemble works on the program.
Like many of Mateo’s ballets, this one flows with an undercurrent narrative, a love triangle between Angie DeWolf, Madeleine Bonn, and Spencer Doru Keith. DeWolf seems to be the young outsider seeking acceptance. Her opening solo has a lovely sweep as she unspools lyrical turns and pristine footwork, pausing momentarily for a telling pose that recurs throughout the work – back arched, head lifted, one arm reaching for the sky, the other clutching the heart.
As the love interest, Keith is both an attentive, supportive partner and a leading man in his own right, with rock solid balances and buoyant leaps. He has a terrific sense of character development, finding a subtle emotional thread in the connective tissue between movements with the tilt of the head or softly reaching arms. He is equally adept when Bonn pulls him away to partner her. She is the demanding Queen Bee to DeWolf’s newbie, and Keith poignantly portrays a man torn between the two. Joanna Binney, Junichi Fukuda, Lauren Ganther, and Rick Vigo effectively suggest the shifting dynamics of the community.
The performances are excellent, and Mateo’s choreography is strong. The only disappointment is that Mateo only used two of Beethoven’s three movements, and the ballet feels slightly incomplete. No happy ending here — DeWolf is left alone as the lights dim.
Mateo’s 2008 ballet “Fearless Symmetries,” set to music by John Adams, has some of his most eye-catching choreography. As Adams’s minimalist score sets up a propulsive backdrop of chugging, urban intensity, flurries of entrances and exits send dancers crisscrossing the stage, tracing vivid patterns. Periodically, ensembles coalesce into phalanxes of slowly shifting lines of striking unison movement, slicing legs and angled arms. However, the ballet’s ambitious unison choreography highlights the disparities in the corps’ timing and placement. In Friday night’s performance, the sharp edginess of the choreography was undercut by imprecision. Solos by Magdalena Gyftopoulos and Binney were commanding and assured.
“House of Ballet,” a fanciful work dating back to 1993 set to Alfred Schnittke’s humorous, satirical Gogol Suite, was the program’s rousing opener. A kind of deconstructivist ballet that plays with stereotypes and caricatures, “House of Ballet” is a lively, entertaining choreographic collage that beautifully showcases the stylistic range of the dancers. Fueled by Schnittke’s rollicking score, it has a circus-life feel from the opening entrance, in which the dancers emerge from the aisles. Keith, the work’s Svengali-like MC, sets the scene for mechanical dolls, a stylized ballet tango, a quartet of catlike women, all sinuous curls and stabbing piqués. There’s a suggestion of Graham here, Limon there, and the “Swan Lake” cygnets make an appearance. But toward the end it gets a little dark and somber, leaving Bonn as the jewel box ballerina spinning alone in the spotlight.
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.