Jose Mateo, Receives 2017 Commonwealth Award for Achievements in the Arts

A longtime Cambridge choreographer has been recognized as one of Massachusetts' arts luminaries, joining the likes of Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart.
On Feb. 15, the Massachusetts Cultural Council awarded Jose Mateo and Lockhart Commonwealth Awards for Achievement in the Arts, Humanities and Sciences.
According to the citation, the founder of the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre Company was honored "for his artistic achievement in choreography and his innovative, humanistic approach to dance education that fosters diversity and inclusion."

"It was quite a surprise. You feel fortunate that someone's noticed you've been busy working. There are a lot of artists that are probably working under the radar or who are being noticed and who aren't aware that they're being noticed," Mateo told the Chronicle.

Fate intervenes
Even before he became a professional dancer, Mateo said he was fascinated by how humans move.
"I think every time I would see people move--and it wasn't necessarily in performance, it could have bene in social situations--I was always impressed by its immediacy and its ability to really communicate something very fundamental," he said. "I could tell a lot about a person by the way they move, by the way they chose to express themselves through movement."
Despite this, he became a professional almost by chance, thanks to Princeton University's decision to become a co-educational school. The first year women were allowed admission, Mateo said, the school began offering modern dance classes; Mateo jumped at the chance to try the art form. Exposure to that art form opened his eyes to a new career, he said.
"Like so many young people, I loved to dance but I was unaware of it as a profession, much less of an idea how one prepares and trains for that," he said.
At Princeton, he trained in ballet as well as in modern dance, and plunged into a dancing career in New York City after graduation. Fate intervened a second time a few years later, when he moved to Cambridge to pursue a new career.
"When I first moved from New York to Cambridge, I actually thought I'd be going into a new career--a dancer's career expires when you're young--I thought I'd be going into some kind of work in art history, what I majored in. I did some administrative work at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard. I started teaching and one thing lead to another, and I started choreographing and I founded a company, and here we are 31 years later," he said.

Finding power to communicate
Since its founding in 1986, the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre Company has grown into one of the country's leading producers of new ballets.
"We try to bring to it the contemporary sensibilities of our audiences. There's so much that can be done that hasn't been done. Unfortunately ballet gets a bad rap because so much of it is a repetition of ballets that were created 100 years ago that have become the stereotypical references for what ballet is in people's minds. Ballet has a range of expression far beyond that," he said.
Mateo said he works to create works that break down walls between people
"There's a universal appeal about dance that allows us to kind of shed our senses, our inhibitions, our suspicions and somehow become very comfortable reading this language as it's spoken across the world," he said. "Dance, aside from its ability to be an expressive art, has a power to bring people together through its infectious nature."
To that end, he said, he started a project called "Dance for World Community," which tries to raise the profile of dance as an art form, and expand its role in communities locally and beyond. As part of the project, he also puts on a dance festival in Cambridge every year that seeks to highlight the power of dance to create social change.


Published by the Cambridge Chronicle - Thursday, February 23, 2017