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Dance review

Mateo melds loss, hope, and a fluid beauty

Dancers perform the premiere of “Over and Over,’’ part of the “Lunar Effects’’ program at the Sanctuary Theatre. Dancers perform the premiere of “Over and Over,’’ part of the “Lunar Effects’’ program at the Sanctuary Theatre. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
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By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / October 21, 2009

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CAMBRIDGE - Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s new program, the first of its 24th season, pairs two contrasting ballets about loss. One, the brand new “Over and Over,’’ catches the edgy tenor of the times. The other, 1991’s “Isle of the Dead,’’ is one of Mateo’s most unabashedly gorgeous works, a ballet that tempers the desolation of loss with hope.

Set to the brooding Rachmaninoff score of the same name, “Isle of the Dead’’ is full of romantic sweep and vivid, eye-catching patterns. Clothed in flesh-colored costumes, the 12 dancers ebb and flow like shifting grains of sand, their patterns marred only by sloppiness in timing and placement. As the work opens up, the full group winnows to three couples, led by Madeleine Bonn and Henoch Spinola. They dance a tempestuous duet full of spectacular lifts, often featuring Bonn splayed upside down over Spinola’s shoulder.

The work’s opening and closing tableaux are stunning, with each dancer starkly lit in a pool of light. Every move is heightened by dramatic shadows, from simple tendus or slow dips of the head to the curved, deeply arched poses of supplicants, heads up, arms raised.

There is little in the way of implied narrative, though this is clearly a community in the aftermath of loss. As the lights dim at the end, the dancers separate, all but one lying prone in their respective spotlights. In contrast, Bonn’s space becomes suffused with light as she looks skyward, her gaze suggesting both acceptance and hope.

“Over and Over,’’ set to Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 2, is a more clenched, angular piece, with militaristic overtones and a love triangle at its core. The opening unfolds as a series of solos and duets, offering a showcase for some of Mateo’s more accomplished dancers. Elizabeth Scherer is the first, a solitary figure kneeling on the floor as the lights come up. As she arises, her searching solo sets the work’s tone. She has lovely timing and presence, with clean, long lines, but her dancing tends to look a little too careful at times, not full out. In his brilliant company debut, newcomer Gleidson Vasconcelos flashes flamboyant turns, extended balances, and bent-legged leaps that corkscrew midair with beautifully articulate feet.

Blistering chainé turns bring the rest of the dancers onstage. Clothed in shades of drab green, they stride and march in shifting phalanxes, arms and legs stiff, slicing like machetes. Scherer and Spinola represent humanity amid oppression, though they barely seem to connect emotionally.

The highlight of the second movement is a duet between Spinola and Sybil Geddes, the third of the triangle. Spinola’s attentive partnering affords some nice chemistry between the two, and he displays impressively secure leaps that split and turn midair, resolving into buttery soft landings. The movement ends in an implied tryst - hands clench together as Geddes pulls Spinola down to the floor in an embrace.

Glass’s rather somber minimalist score finally rolls out driving percussion for the finale, letting Mateo’s dancers unleash some buoyance in springy leaps and skip turns. Spinola throws Geddes into the air and catches her. It’s only the briefest of moments, but it seems to burst the membrane of restraint and lets the piece breathe.

JOSE MATEO BALLET THEATRE’S “LUNAR EFFECTS’’ At: the Sanctuary Theatre, Cambridge, Saturday night (through Oct. 25)

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