This spring, American Ballet Theatre unveils Of Love and Rage, a new evening-length work based on an unlikely source: a tale of love and adventure written in the first century AD. We're all aware of Greek mythology, of the tragedies and of the Greek philosophers. But it is much less widely known that a writer by the name of Chariton penned what is likely the first romantic novel in Western literature, or at least the oldest that has survived: Callirhoe.
Of Love and Rage will have its premiere March 5 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. (The New York premiere is June 2.) It was conceived by Alexei Ratmansky, ABT's choreographer in residence, who worked with the French actor and dramaturg Guillaume Gallienne to adapt the novel's convoluted plot into a narrative that can be conveyed through dance. The music is by Aram Khachaturian, reorchestrated and arranged by Philip Feeney. Much of it is based on excerpts from Gayané, a Soviet ballet that premiered during World War II. The designs, by Jean-Marc Puissant, reflect both the period in which the book was written and its setting, which includes the Greek city of Syracuse and locations in ancient Babylon and Turkey.
"I did a lot of research in the Near East and Greek collections at the Met, the Louvre and the British Museum," says set designer Jean-Marc Puissant.
Courtesy American Ballet Theatre
This isn't Ratmansky's first foray into the world of Ancient Greece; his 2016 Serenade after Plato's Symposium was inspired by the themes laid out in Plato's philosophical text. In recent years, he says, he has developed a keen interest in Greek aesthetics. "Greek art is a late discovery for me," he says. "I've become obsessed with ancient statues and sculpture. There is a balance of forces in this work that is like harmony in music. As well as a lot of tension and emotion."
Ratmansky is also interested, he says, in "cracking the code" of how to put together a successful evening-length story ballet based on a literary source, a project he has undertaken only a few times over the course of his career. Here, he will do so on a grand scale. Callirhoe covers a broad spectrum of events, with episodes depicting love, conflict, displacement, piracy, even war. That's a lot to pack into an evening of dance.