|Desiree Reese and Sean Gunter as the young innocent and her duplicitous lover in Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre's "Covens." (Gary Sloan)|
Soaring solos give this ballet a lift
CAMBRIDGE - Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre's current program pairs "Covens," the choreographer's most recent big ballet set to contemporary music, with his first venture set to music of the pre-Baroque era. The new "Lovers, Fools, Saints, and Sinners" features songs by Italian Renaissance composers, and the score provides an ideal structure for lots of short dances. It's an effective showcase for the company, providing ample opportunities for individual dancers to shine in solos and small groupings.
The ballet opens with a leisurely promenade that unfolds with the pageantry of a masque. Set to songs by Monteverdi, the section introduces all the performers, giving each brief moments to tease our interest for what's to come.
The dances that follow are a bit uneven: some inventive choreography mixed with more routine fare. Right in the middle is a ballet within a ballet, a relatively short, melancholy piece called "My Sweet Sighs" that creates a series of shifting alliances between two men and three women, none of whom seem to be having any fun. The main couple, Ruth Bronwen and Matt White, have the most mature relationship, like a marriage grown stale, tinged with sadness and regret. In a riveting adagio, they hardly glance at each other, yet we see the remains of love and trust in Bronwen's touch, her backward leans and swoons.
Bronwen is a wonderful addition to the company. From her work in modern dance, she moves with substance and depth. In her duet with Madeleine Bonn, "Chiacona," she dances with full-bodied commitment, impeccable timing, and lyricism, making the usually ethereal Bonn look stiff and restrained by comparison. The two go in and out of synch in a lovely dance of gracious extensions.
In "Love be Damned," Magdalena Gyftopoulos dances a solo of youthful yearning, but her sweetly coy duet with Jamaal Clue is interrupted by a sextet of dancers kicking and thrusting like a hoard of angry relatives. In "The Boast," Noah Kopp sails effortlessly through flashy barrel turns, leaps, and spins, pausing only for an insouciant "Aren't I great?" gesture. Bonn's introspective solo "Eyes, You Can Cry" is made up of unfulfilled reaches and questioning glances, her flexible shoulders rotated slightly back, giving her an air of soft vulnerability. She breezes through chaine turns, arms rising as if lifted by air. But despite the grace of her upper body, her legs seem a little clenched.
The ballet begs for a new ending. The last duet with Sean Gunter and Ha Lim Seo is lovely but rather banal; it's a disappointingly lackluster fade to the whole.
"Covens," supposedly about witch-hunters, is one of Mateo's more compelling if puzzling narrative ballets. Though the powerful ensemble choreography looked a little sloppy Sunday, the duets for Desiree Reese as the young innocent and Gunter as her duplicitous lover were exquisite. Reese, just back after recovering from a broken foot, has never looked better. With her vibrant energy and radiant face, she danced with thrilling abandon, curling and coiling into the capable Gunter, who draped her supple back over his shoulder or vaulted her into some of the most stunning lifts in the Mateo canon.