Born in Cuba and raised in the Bronx, José Mateo first studied ballet and modern technique at Princeton University. Mateo told SCN that he “got lucky” so to speak. “I attended Princeton the first year that is it became co-ed and they offered modern dance”, Mateo recalled walking up the steps to his dance company’s home—the Sanctuary Theatre, located in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church. At Princeton, Mateo studied with Ze’eva Cohen, a world renowned choreographer who founded Princeton’s Dance program. Mateo’s wanderlust leads him to a new vision of contemporary ballet—A New Classicism—classical ballet performed with a modern or contemporary sensibility. After receiving his B.A. in Art History in 1974 Mateo founded the José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 1986; as founder and Artistic director, José has shared his vision with up and coming dancers and strived for an intimate experience between the artists and audience. Boston Magazine, in their 2011 Best of Boston issue, cited José Mateo Ballet Theater as “Best Dance Performance” and the production was included in the Boston Globe’s “10 Best Dance Events”.
Also recognized for using his craft to impact larger social issues, his civic leadership lead him to be named to the inaugural class of Barr Fellows by the Barr foundation in 2005; he has served as a Director on the Boards of the Boston Cultural Council, the Cambridge Arts Council and has participated on the board of other community conscious and culturally conscious organizations including Spare Change News parent organization – the Homeless Empowerment Project. His experience with non-profits led him to spearhead the Dance for World Community in 2009, a local and global network project aimed at strengthening communities with dance-based activity; and with this project, Mateo conceived the area’s very first dance festival.
Each weekday multiracial ingathering of young people gather at his ballet company’s school. In addition to being one of the few multiracial dance companies in the area, Mateo’s ballet carries a full repertoire of original pieces. “Having a school requires that we create new pieces constantly”, Maeto noted as he watched over the rehearsals for the only non-original piece that they perform annual—The Nutcracker. Giggling and awe stuck little girls—who are overcome by the dance’s pixie dust— dressed in tutus and full on gowns are joyous. And that is just in the audience.
José Mateo Ballet Theatre will be presenting its 25th anniversary of The Nutcracker until the 24th of December—preformed at the Sanctuary Theater in Harvard Square, Cambridge (December 1-16). It is very important to the mission of Mateo and his troupe that ballet is accessible to all communities. To this end, their lively interpretation of The Nutcracker will be performed at The Strand Theater in Dorchester (December 22-24).
If the Ballet Theatre is his album, The Nutcracker is his top-charting single; Mateo’s rendition of this classic existentially soars its history and makes new tradition—the breathtaking surrealism of Clara’s dream world invoked and a keen eye for aesthetics, the infinite Tchaikovsky and the lovely sugar plum fairies – all with his own trademark style and vision. Not to mention 200 children, ages 6-18 adorn the stage as party children, mice, soldiers, polichinelles, and cherubs. Mateo’s The Nutcracker warrants a unique experience that can be appreciated by all people and adequately complements the Season.
—Clayton Allen Bugh