In an American Ballet Theatre Spring Season filled with old iconic warhorses that ballet fans have committed to memory, Alexei Ratmansky’s Of Love and Rage is a refreshing contrast. The work, which debuted at Segerstrom Center in March 2020 and was postponed several years due to COVID lockdowns, opened Monday at the Metropolitan Opera House. It is a grand, sweeping, multifaceted production that was definitely worth the wait.
Of Love and Rage is inspired by a Greek prose epic Callirhoe by Chariton written around the first century AD, thought to be the oldest surviving novel. Getting to the theater early to study the synopsis pays dividends in this sometimes difficult to follow ballet. The story has Romeo and Juliet, Spartacus, and Le Corsaire themes revolving around Callirhoe, a woman so beautiful that she is compared to Aphrodite. Charereas is her first love, but he becomes enraged when he thinks she is unfaithful. Multiple men fall in love with her and abduct her. Think of it as Greek soap opera dramatics with multiple relationship triangles. As in Spartacus, there is a battle scene where Charereas is the army’s leader.
The plot is complex, but Ratmansky does an excellent job of making the subplots understandable, unlike his Tempest, which was difficult to follow. Of Love and Rage features a thundering, brassy score by Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, who wrote the score for the Soviet classic Spartacus.
Four dance segments stand out. First, a festive dance in Act I where Callirhoe and Chaereas lead the group, ending with supported turns across the stage. Second, in Act II, blue suit-clad Corp dancers lead the way with an acrobatic dance with Russian flavor. Third, in Act II, Dionysius and Mithridates have a conflict over Callirhoe. In Babylon, by law, all disputes between noblemen must be settled by the King of Babylon, leading Dionysius and Mithridates to a judicial dance off as they passionately present their cases. Finally, the war between Egypt and Babylon is a gripping segment with blood-red fog hanging over the battle scene. The dancing is dramatic during the battle along with the sets, which reveal broken statues and structures as the fog lifts (Jean-Marc Puissant designed the stunning scenery and costumes). All of the dance segments are infused with the spirited Khachaturian score.
I evaluate a ballet based on two standards: 1) Does it keep me awake? and 2) Do I want to see it again? After viewing the Monday New York debut and final Saturday evening performances, my answer is a resounding yes to both questions.
Much of the appeal of the ballet is a large number of dancers that are featured. Many dancers have serious dance roles, and active corps pieces, a strength of the work.
The Monday leads Catherine Hurin/Aran Bell were an ideal pair. Hurlin’s character demonstrated resolve in the face of distress while Aran’s exuded strength, particularly in the battle scene. At 6’3 inches, he towers over most dancers. Although the 5’7 inch Vladimir Vasiliev demonstrated that a smaller man can exhibit great gravitas as Spartacus, being tall is an advantage. Guest Artist Daniel Camargo was expressive Monday as Dionysius, with Corps member Jarod Curley doing an admirable job subbing for the injured Cory Stearns as Mirhridates as he went toe to toe with Dionysius in competition for Callirhoe.
The Saturday evening cast featured Christine Shevchenko and Thomas Forster. Christine is also an ideal Callirhoe, while Thomas was a bit more subdued relative to Aran as Chaereas. Blaine Hoven was a strong willed Dionysius.
During the Saturday evening curtain calls, Ratmansky joined Christine with a stirring show of support for Ukraine as both held the flag high. Christine was born in Odessa, Ukraine and her family moved to the US when she was young. Ratmansky was a Principal Dancer with the Ukrainian National Ballet.
Reviews have been favorable:
On to Swan Lake. Look out for Instagram curtain call photos throughout the week.