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Dance Deconstructed

Arts & Culture | October 22, 2012

When most of us think of a ballet performance, we think of tutus and pointe shoes; of dancers with perfect pirouettes and perfect bodies; of a world that is inaccessible. In this world of modern ballet, some professional companies are trying to move away from this approach in order to break down the stereotypes of ballet. One such company is Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, a local company that works to make ballet accessible to everyone. In its most recent performance, Mysterious Arrangements, the company demonstrated the beauty that can be created by stepping outside the traditional norms of ballet.

According to Scott Fraser, the company’s managing director, Jose Mateo’s mission is to “use the power of dance to inspire social change.” Jose Mateo launched the Dance for World Community project with the goal to “expand the role of dance in communities by creating local and global networks that catalyze inclusive and diverse dance-based activities.” Through this project, as well as both the Jose Mateo Company and Jose Mateo School, Mateo has tried to create a dynamic ballet community in the Cambridge area.

One of the unique things about the Jose Mateo Ballet School is that anybody can take classes there. Regardless of age or experience, Jose Mateo Ballet studios will welcome you. Molly Wheat, a much-loved teacher at the dance school, called the studio an “exciting environment for people of all ages and abilities” that is open to everyone and anyone who wants to learn ballet. Molly began dancing at the Jose Mateo Ballet School when she was just 13 years old and joined the company in 1992. She continued dancing with the company until 2007 and is now a full-time faculty member at Jose Mateo, describing her journey as one that has come “full circle.” She says that she is extremely grateful for everything that she learned at Jose Mateo. It taught her that dance is for everyone. Now Molly can share her experiences through her teaching.

The Jose Mateo Company’s performing space reflects its community building goals. The studio is in an old church in Harvard Square; this is also where their performances take place. There is no stage and no curtains—the dancers are right there in front of you. As Molly put it, “You can see them sweat, you can see them breathe.” You can see their muscles working with every movement they make, and more importantly, you can truly feel their passion.”

Jose Mateo opened its 27th season last Friday with the first performance of its new show Mysterious Arrangements. The show was yet another example of Mateo’s capability of creating dance that is both raw and real in its emotional quality. There were no tutus, no glamorous costumes—just ballet. The diversity of its dancers further sets this performance apart from the ballet stereotype. There was no one identifiable “type” of dancer—and the different body types and styles complimented one other beautifully.

Using the medium of dance, Jose Mateo has been able to explore social connections and celebrate culture in a way that promotes community and diversity. Dance is not something only for dancers, but rather something for everyone and anyone. Whether you’re young or old, tall or short, large or small, we can all find something meaningful through dance if we approach it with an open mind.

Mysterious Arrangements will be running until October 28th at Jose Mateo’s Sanctuary Theatre in Harvard Square. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online or by calling the company box office. The studio holds open classes from Monday through Saturday.