José Mateo’s latest production doesn’t feature a sleeping princess waiting for a kiss, a sugar plum fairy tale or a meet-cute at a ball. The women in Unbridled, which opened on Valentine’s Day and runs through March 2, wouldn’t be satisfied with just a kiss. Themes of sexuality and intimacy spark up the stage in Mateo’s original ballets, Schubert Adagio, Mozart Concerto and Still Waters. The last, for instance, nods to the legendary sirens who lured sailors to the rocks. “[The] three ballets, in different ways, deal with women protagonists who find themselves in situations where they must straddle the line between cool composure and unabashed passion,” says Mateo, who founded the José Mateo Ballet Theatre in 1986. “I believe audiences—including the finickiest of balletomanes—want to see dancers unbridled, their fears and passions exposed.”
There’s plenty of passion behind the scenes, too. For Mateo, who choreographs all of the Cambridge-based company’s original ballets, the process begins with a love affair with the music. “I look for music that has a broad dynamic range and will make me want to soar and devour space, sometimes quietly, sometimes explosively,” Mateo says. He’ll play a piece on repeat, over and over, until he’s ready to commit, then improvise on his own, drawing inspiration from everyday intrigues. “[Dramatic theater] is all around us,” he says. “I constantly take pleasure in observing people.” Then comes further experimentation with the company in a heated period of rehearsal. A piece might be conceived from start to finish in as little as three weeks.
The show features scores from three different eras—romantic (Schubert’s Quintet in C), classical (Mozart’s Piano Concerto #20) and modern (Debussy’s Sirènes)—but all lend themselves to a romantic evening. “Sensuality seems to be intrinsic to ballet,” says Mateo. When compared with the women of Unbridled, Cinderella and Clara might just seem like prudes.