Performing Arts: Dance
June 23, 2022
Operatic ballets wowed late 1800's audiences in Russia. Exotic themes, extravagant costumes and lush music accompanied star-crossed lovers, battles, heady dreams and reconciliations.

Well, you get all that along with imaginatively scored choreography in Alexei Ratmansky's Of Love and Rage.

Spread out over a popular score by Aram Khachaturian, the ballet references the first known romantic novel "Callirhoe" possibly written 1-2 BCE. Set in the Greek city of Syracuse during the Golden Age of ancient Greece, 400 B.C.E., gods, kings, pirates and the goddess of love Aphrodite make appearances.

As if ripped from the friezes of ancient Greek vases, the production opens on a bevy of beautiful maidens outfitted in long, filmy tunics (by Jean-Marc Puissant). Lyrical cascades of soft movements led by the exquisitely expressive Catherine Hurlin (Callirhoe), fan across the stage like soft Mediterranean waves cresting against sun bleached shores.

Difficult to fully capture Ratmansky's unending invention, women partner women, men partner men in balances and lifts that incorporate unexpected points of support and quick directional switches between partners. At times, Ratmansky's unending movement options invite editing, but on this occasion, his immaculate choreographic originality is framed by clarity.

Perfectly suited to play Callirhoe, the woman whose beauty captivates men, Hurlin theatricalizes her role without over dramatizing by simply interpreting Ratmansky's intention-laden choreography.

Based on an entangled narrative that incorporates everything from Adonis-like Greek male athletes to strong-willed noblemen, pillaging pirates, and fanciful women, the ballet loosely follows the lovers Callirhoe and Chaereas (a fervent Aaron Bell). Wooed by many a noble young man, Callirhoe choses to marry Chaereas and they exchange gold wrist bands as a token of their unbroken love.

At this point, Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane comes to mind, because a similar plot is hatched when Callirhoe's maid helps the unscrupulous suitors replicate the wedding bracelet for the maid to wear and causes Chaereas to believe Callirhoe to be unfaithful. Chareas rushes into her chamber and kills her--arms rise behind the bodies of witnesses.

Taken to the mausoleum, Callirhoe survives only to wake up in time to witness pirates carting off her funerary possessions and make her their captive.

Part of Ratmansky's choreographic allure is the logic imposed on one passage after another. Unlike other colleagues, Ratmansky's choreographic arc is not interrupted with oddities parachuted in for no discerning reason.

A grand scale ballet, strands of dancers file into diagonal patterns that break into flowery chunks, reconvene as noisettes and split into the air. Fanciful folk dances abound and simple typical ballet jumps are embellished with additional twists, or directional changes that required not just a buoyant pop, but a vertical balance.

After Callirhoe is abducted, she's deposited in Anatolia, where the nobleman Dionysius (the compellingly brooding Daniel Camargo) mourns his wife's death until....the sight of Callirhoe undoes him. After some cajoling, she marries him (in part because she's pregnant and requires a husband). Camargo's smoldering dark looks amplify his earthy dips and expansive leaps, as he and Hurlin entwine in a duet of majestic lifts, and elastic embraces.

But all is still not well because Callirhoe captivates Mithridates (Jarod Curley who admirably replaced an injured Cory Stearns), another nobleman in Babylon who dukes it out with Dionysius until--voila! Chareas appears. Ok, the story is a bit circuitous, but it gives lead dancers an opportunity to dramatically invest their dancing with oversized emotions embedded in intricate choreography.

In Puissant's massively colorful production, gorgeous costumes festoon the narrative, color-coding one tribe from another and splashing the ballet with light by Duane Schuler.

Hurlin and Bell soar through the ballet capturing the lovers' passion. Invested with technical facility and interpretive bravery, Hurlin seamlessly fastens the dance to the character.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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