|Sybil Geddes and August Lincoln Pozgay in Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s world premiere of “Circles,’’ to music by Alfred Schnittke. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
Dark, solitary themes to Mateo’s ‘Circles’
CAMBRIDGE — Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre closes its 24th season with “Uncontainable,’’ a program pairing one of Mateo’s largest and liveliest works with one of his darkest and most dramatic, the world premiere of “Circles,’’ set to Alfred Schnittke’s one-movement Concerto for Piano and Strings.
The piece doesn’t send audience members out the door with a tune they can hum, but Mateo could hardly have chosen a better score for his portrait of a woman “on the brink of insanity,’’ as the program notes suggest. Schnittke peppers traditional harmonies, familiar-sounding progressions, and pulsating rhythms with sudden crashing dissonances and eerie microtonal slides. All set the tone for an intense, rather grim and slow-moving ballet that unfurls in a kind of hallucinogenic fever.
Sybil Geddes, one of Mateo’s most dramatic dancers, is superb in the role of a haunted, sequestered young woman, first seen kneeling on a stair, head bowed, aimlessly drawing circles on the floor with one finger. As she paces in a large circle, August Lincoln Pozgay enters, a mirrored image of her circled walks. Geddes can barely stand to meet his gaze, her eyes darting furtively in panic. When other dancers slowly populate her claustrophobic world, passing through like vaguely menacing presences, its unclear if they are real or just figments of her disturbed imagination. She barely connects with them before they disappear offstage — and as at the beginning, she is trapped in her solitude.
It’s a compelling portrait of isolation verging on madness, but it’s more memorable for the provocative context than for the choreography, which doesn’t veer much outside the traditional neoclassical vocabulary. The most striking section is a fleeting little march by a trio of women placidly crossing the stage, seeding their pointe work with the occasional forced arch or super-flexed foot.
The 2008 “Fearless Symmetries’’ opened the program with lively, propulsive energy and a bustling urban edge. It is set to John Adams’s minimalist “Fearful Symmetries,’’ and it’s telling that Mateo changed the title to signal a more upbeat approach. “Fearless Symmetries’’ is fast-paced and all out: Large ensemble unison skips, spins, stiff-legged walks, and arabesques broke into striking floor patterns that expanded to every corner.
Though some of the ensemble work looked a bit ragged on Sunday afternoon, individual dancing in solos and small groups was very impressive. Eye-catching lifts sent dancers into high, off-center balances, with legs draped languorously. A trio of women unleashed a dazzling series of fouettes that spun into pirouettes. Jenna-Marie Nagel, as the ingénue, displayed youthful insouciance with light, delicate footwork and breezy spins and leaps. Played upon by the outside forces of the crowd, she seemed to mature over the course of the work, gestures taking weight and heft.
Kehlet Schou danced as solidly as I’ve ever seen him, throwing himself with muscular vigor and control into corkscrew turns and buoyant leaps. A rather somber Elisabeth Scherer seemed to represent a cautionary figure in contrast with Nagel’s impulsive youthfulness. Her solid footwork and clean, elegant extensions looked slightly stiff and constrained, as if she knew better than to let unbridled joy carry her away.