I went to the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre on a Saturday night, February 23rd, and was really taken back not only by the performance, but also by the complementary atmosphere of the theatre. I personally have never been to a ballet before, aside from some of my sisters’ small recitals I involuntarily attended as a young child. Revisiting the art, as a young adult, struck me in a way I truly did not feel possible. Upon entering the theatre, which is located at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Harvard Square, I realized that my expectations were 100% false. It was not a massive theatre with stadium-like seating and an elevated stage. It was a hollowed out church with high ceilings, columns, and maybe about 35-40 small tables set up in front of a ground level dance floor. It actually feels like you’re on the dance floor with the dancers.
Since the theatre’s beginnings in 1986, the Jose Mateo’s Ballet Theatre has been known to be one of Boston’s most innovative ballet schools, as well as the originator of Dance for World Community, which is “a project that stimulates inclusive, community-wide dance-based activities through local and global networks”. This project aims to empower individuals and raise awareness about social issues through the art of dance.
The performance of the evening was called “How Do I Love Thee?” which was choreographed and designed by Jose Mateo, and lighting design was done by Stoney Cook. The program consisted of three ballets that highlighted the whole spectrum of emotions that occur within and between lovers. There was distress, control, oppression, irrationality, sex, hate, fear, and love. I honestly couldn’t name all of the feelings that were portrayed after only one viewing. The accompanying music varied in terms of its style and historical origins. The music seemed to just make sense with the choreography. I am definitely a rookie when it comes to ballet, but the layering of the dance moves over the music was just natural, and that’s something anyone can see. I remember in particular the second ballet they performed, entitled “Reverie”, because it blew me away how synchronized the dancers were with the music. I don’t mean just their timing in syncing up body movement with the down or up beat; I mean the human depiction of music. In this part, there were four men and four women on stage. The women were positioned in front of each man while the men gripped the women’s waist and maneuvered them in a number of ways. The women were getting jerked around, surrendering their body to the male for him to do what he will with her. The music that was layered on top of it was mechanical, rigid, and sharp. Each time the man made the women move in a different way there was a strike of a note with strong attack. The control of man over woman portrayed in this segment was incredible, overwhelming, saddening, and confusing all at the same time. I can’t even say for sure if that’s what they were going for.
Throughout the entirety of the ballet I asked myself if I was just thinking dirty or if they were actually being very sexual. Again, my ignorance and expectations got in the way of how I thought about the ballet. The whole concept of the program was love and the complexities experienced by lovers, of course sex is going to be involved. But, for some reason I felt like it just couldn’t be. Once I got over the fact that I wasn’t being a pervert, I was able to enjoy the show and see it as it was intended.
All in all I was intrigued and amazed by the dark side of life and love that was examined in this ballet. There was one part where I felt like two lovers left each other and began trying out love with others. They kept trying it out with others and coming back to each other and I, myself, began to feel the jealousy, uncertainty, pain, and anger as the lovers tried to figure out if they really wanted to be together or if they wanted someone else. Everything happens so fast, but slow enough to perceive the stages of emotions beautifully portrayed by the dancers at the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. Every dancer was passionate, enthusiastic, and engulfed in their roles. They did such a wonderful job in making the ballet relevant and comprehensive for a diverse audience. I highly recommend seeing a performance at the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre whether you are a ballet fanatic or a first time viewer like myself. With that, I advise you attend with an open mind and wide eyes, for the performance is supplemented by the atmosphere, music, lighting, and raw emotion.