A Review of José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Cuba Files’

Elizabith Costey ‘16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer


The Cuba Files. Photo Credit: Gary Sloan
The Cuba Files. Photo Credit: Gary Sloan

Diverse and vibrant, José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s The Cuba Files is not to be missed. Rich in narrative and technical precision, The Cuba Files easily reaches audiences of all backgrounds. José Mateo weaves three ballets together, each one unique in its narrative, music, and movement.

Upon arrival, one cannot help but admire the uniqueness of the performance space. The Sanctuary Theatre, residing in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, a comfortable distance from Harvard Square, is a graceful—if small—venue. Waiting for the performance to begin, audience members sip wine, chat amicably, and admire the simple elegance of the church. White columns frame the hall. The viewers sit at cabaret styled tables, the front most of which sit on the marley dance floor, literally placing audience members on the stage. Throughout the performance, dancers and the audience remain a safe distance from each other; yet being on stage throughout the performance is impactful none the less.

The lights dim. From the closeness of the seats the viewers can hear the quiet scuff and tap of ballet shoes entering the stage. The light returns, and “Escape” opens with the rich melody of Concerto for Guitar and Violin by Leo Brouwer. From the very first pluck of the guitar strings, the audience is enrapt. This is no ordinary ballet; there is too much richness, too much passion for this to be mere classical ballet. That’s not to say that classical ballets lack richness and passion, but comparing the two, well, there is no comparison.

The dancing is tumultuous, matching the energy of Brouwer’s music. “Escape” flows seamlessly from a busy scene with many dancers to a soft duet. Scenes totter back and forth between the gentle duets, and the increasingly aggressive group performances. The duet, Angie DeWolf and Spencer Keith, danced in perfect unison, complementing each other’s actions and moving the spectators with their emotional depth. Technically speaking, the duet’s partner work was elegant and natural. DeWolf impressed with her beautiful extensions and exceptionally clean lines, while Keith awed with elevated leaps and striking lifts.

The Cuba Files presents "Escape." Photo Credit: Gary Sloan
The Cuba Files presents “Escape.” Photo Credit: Gary Sloan

As DeWolf and Keith struggle to find happiness in a turbulent political section of the ballet, the other dancers’ movements become increasingly chaotic and aggressive until the final, heartbreaking scene. The viewers sit in remorseful silence as the stage goes dark, and then immediately break into applause.

After the heaviness of the “Escape,” The Cuba Files lightens with its second ballet, “Danzones Baléticos.” “Danzones Baléticos,” back by popular demand, is an amusing and character-driven ballet, performed to lively music by an assortment of Cuban composers. Genuine fun, this piece thrives on the energy of its dancers, from the flirtatious men to the playful ladies. The ballet is an interesting mix of theater and classic ballet technique.

José Mateo’s final ballet of the evening, “In Our Minds,” carried a more serious tone than its predecessor. The performance begins with the initially gentle melody of Trio Cervantino by composer Juan Piñera. The dancers, clad in dark, somber colors, move in accordance with the complimenting piano, clarinet, and violin melodies; matching the sounds note for note. The ballet alternates between the duet of Madeleine Bonn and Stephen James, and the group performances led by Magdalena Gyftopoulos and Ryan Bulson. Both sections are dynamic and favor sharp movement styles, echoing Juan Piñera’s composition. Yet, despite the jagged feel of the choreography, the dancers are able to maintain the delicate nature of ballet. In the duets between Madeleine Bonn and Stephen James, Bonn displays a dependence on her partner and even a frailty. This ballet suggests people are bound to their own “psychological entanglements,” that we are trapped “In Our Minds”.

Although very different, each ballet in José Mateo’s The Cuba Files presents distinct stories and thoughts through rich melodies and wonderful narratives derived from dynamic characters and real, human emotions. The Cuba Files continues through the first week of March with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, and Thursday, March 3, at 8 pm.

For tickets call: (617) 354-7467 or visit


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