A mainstay in Boston's cultural landscape, José Mateo Ballet Theatre will end its 32-year run under founder, artistic director and choreographer José Mateo following the company's Moving Violations program this weekend. The 18-member company will be on hiatus until a new director is found, save for performances of Mateo's The Nutcracker in November and December. The 66-year-old Mateo says that while he is ending his duties as artistic director, he is not retiring from the organization—he's merely shifting his focus to further developing the José Mateo Ballet Theatre School and the Dance for World Community festival he produces each year. Pointe spoke with him recently about his decision and his future plans.
Why are you stepping down now, before a new director is hired?
Thirty-two years choreographing for one company makes for a long history. I have other projects I want to turn my attention to.
What will be the biggest challenge in hiring a new artistic director?
Changing hands for a company that has a unique repertory of only my works. I don't know if I would want someone else to set that work, nor would I want to restrain anyone from offering their own work. It's not simply stepping in, it would really be to start something new. Our organizational mission is about presenting new work and developing audiences for it, and that is going to take some time.
Mateo coaches company dancers. Photo by Gary Sloan, courtesy JMBT
Will the company retain the name José Mateo Ballet Theatre? What will happen to the approximately 80 ballets you've created?
The company name is a decision the board will have to make with input from new stakeholders and the new artistic director's vision. As for the ballets, we've have been in discussions on licensing them and making them available to other companies and to the new artistic director.
What are your plans for developing the school?
Creating a movement style has necessitated developing a technique for teaching that style. That technique has helped solidify a pedagogy that I would like to not just codify, but institute more officially in our school. It allows ballet to be more inclusive and so the pedagogy is aimed at very personalized training. Each student is guided to learn his or her own instrument, which ultimately makes for strong technique.
And for your annual festival, Dance for World Community?
With Dance for World Community we have tried to reposition the very role of dance in communities. While we have had success with it over the past 10 years, I feel we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of its potential, and I would like to bring it other cities.
Mateo teaching class. Photo by Gary Sloan, courtesy JMBT.
Tell me about your choice of works for the company's final repertory program?
We have some works from the earlier part of the company's history, the middle part, and a brand-new work. It has been a very effective conclusion to our performances.
Were you trying to say something specific with the program's premiere, New Paths?
It was intended to somehow represent what the artistic mission of José Mateo Ballet Theatre has been all along, which is to take this traditional art form and modernize it. Not turn it on its head and revolutionize it. I have never identified with the term contemporary ballet, but I would like to think our "new classism"-stylized ballets are relevant to contemporary audiences.
What will you miss most?
Our company has always been 18-20 dancers, and I have had the opportunity to develop very close relationships with each of them. I have been very fortunate that many of our dancers have stayed with us for a very long time—many for most of their careers. I have watched them develop from young dancers into mature artists and I will miss that day-to-day process. It is what engages me most and it is where I can give the most.
José Mateo Ballet Theatre present its final performances of Moving Violations, April 27-29, 2018; Sanctuary Theatre, Cambridge, MA. www.ballettheatre.org