Eighty diverse performers take over Harvard Square for Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s Dance for World Community event
Tatianna Haynes of the contemporary Haitian dance group Jean Appolon Expressions swings her hips to heavy drumbeats in the Sanctuary Theatre. Together with partner Jean-Sebastien Duvilaire, she raises her arms to the sky, rocking back and forth with powerful steps. Their emotive dance style is a mix of traditional Haitian folkloric steps and contemporary choreography. JAE was one of 80 troupes to perform at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre’s Dance for World Community on Saturday June 10 in Harvard Square.
The annual all-day festival highlights the diversity of the Boston dance community with performances of dance styles from all over the world. The spectrum of bodies, ages and movement perpetuates Jose Mateo’s dictum that anyone can dance. Five stages hosted performances in and around the Sanctuary Theatre and the surrounding section of Massachusetts Avenue. Each troupe had 30 minutes to showcase their talents, though many stayed to support their fellow artists.
JAE’s mission is to educate their audiences on the history and cultural traditions of Haiti. In their World Community piece the soundtrack featured a voiceover about an immigrant’s disillusionment with America. The dance reflected disappointment and then hope, as the choreography went from slow sweeps to broad, powerful movements. JAE attributes the popularization of Haitian dance moves in contemporary culture to the research of modern dance icon Katherine Dunham.
Following JAE, KS Dance Studio paid homage to Africa. The Hyde Park-based group teaches ages three to adult. Their goal is to help students embrace and understand their culture through movement. The mostly young performers at World Community danced with abandon, thriving off the attention of the crowd.
In addition to the performances, the festival featured dance lessons, food vendors and “Advocacy Way,” a street full of booths with information about local nonprofits and activist groups. The festival was free and open to all viewers, advocating accessibility to the arts.
For Jose Mateo, founder of Jose Mateo Ballet School, the festival is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity that isn’t always transparent in the field. He says that especially with ballet, dancers who don’t fit into specific physical and racial specifications are discouraged from working toward professional careers. Dance for World Community works to break down these stereotypes.
Next year will be the tenth anniversary celebration of the festival and Mateo has plans for a yearlong cultural celebration. He says, “It’s all about talking with people in the community to show that dance does connect to social issues. There’s still so much work that needs to be done.”