NEW YORK – The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue provided the dramatic setting for the MetLiveArts and American Ballet Theatre (ABT) event on December 3 which presented a preview of the new ballet Of Love and Rage by ABT’s Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, inspired by the first Greek novel, Callirhoe, written by Chariton of Aphrodisias in the 1st century AD.
Set in ancient Greece, around 400 BC, the thrilling new production recounts the epic tale of legendary beauty Callirhoe and her lover Chaereus as they navigate tremendous obstacles, including being buried alive and being abducted by pirates.
The event began with a viewing and tour of the Greek and Roman Galleries with Joan Mertens, curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Met, leading one group of guests, and docent Antonia Pavia, leading the second group. Mertens offered insights into selected works in the Museum’s collection some of which inspired Ratmansky and his new ballet. Among the artworks was a Greek terracotta loutrophoros (ceremonial vase for water) from the late 6th century BC. Such vases were used for the bridal bath and also for certain funerary rites. This particular vase may have been used in rituals at the grave, for it was made with no bottom so that offerings poured into it could reach the dead under ground. Decorated with scenes of the ceremonies that preceded burial, one can see on the shoulder of the vase, a dead youth lies on a high couch, surrounded by grieving women– his relatives and perhaps professional mourners. Their hair has been cut short as a sign of mourning, and they make the traditional gestures of lamentation. Their open mouths indicate that they are singing a funeral song. On either side, men walk in procession with their right arms raised and their mouths open, also in funeral lament. Below, horsemen similarly gesture with their arms. Above, on the neck, is another group of mourning women, one holding a loutrophoros.
Also among the artworks highlighted in the tour was the Greek bronze statuette of a veiled and masked dancer from the 3rd-2nd century BC. The complex motion of this dancer is conveyed through the interaction of the body with several layers of dress. Over an undergarment that falls in deep folds and trails heavily, the figure wears a lightweight mantle, drawn tautly over her head and body by the pressure applied to it by her right arm, left hand, and right leg. Its substance is conveyed by the alternation of the tubular folds pushing through from below and the freely curling softness of the fringe. The woman's face is covered by the sheerest of veils, discernible at its edge below her hairline and at the cutouts for the eyes. Her extended right foot shows a laced slipper. This dancer has been convincingly identified as one of the professional entertainers, a combination of mime and dancer, for which the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria was famous in antiquity.
The Greek marble relief of Hermes, three nymphs, and Acheloos, circa 320-300 BC, also offered inspiration to Ratmansky. The relief represents Hermes escorting three nymphs and, at the back, the forepart of the river god Acheloos who is represented in the form of a bull. A mound stands for a rustic altar. The retrospective style of the relief imitates works of the Archaic period (circa 600-480 BC). Numerous votive reliefs of this type, dedicated to Hermes, Pan, and the nymphs, have been found in Greece. In most of these scenes, a grotto marks the locality; this relief is unusual for its architectural frame.
A reception followed at the Museum’s Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing with cocktails and a fascinating discussion. MetLive Arts General Manager Limor Tomer offered welcoming remarks as did ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. The discussion was moderated by well-known actor, director, screenwriter and producer Liev Schreiber with Ratmansky, costume and set designer Jean-Marc Puissant, and Curator in Charge of Ancient Near Eastern Art Kim Benzel sharing the details about the creation of the new ballet.
A performance by ABT Principal Dancer Christine Shevchenko and ABT Soloist Thomas Forster with a bit of rehearsal gave the guests a glimpse of the ballet and Ratmansky’s impressive attention to detail. Wearing ancient Greece-inspired costumes, the talented dancers moved with emotional intensity in the scene as they rehearsed the movements with Ratmansky offering precise direction. The final result dazzled the guests who applauded enthusiastically and looked forward to the premiere of the ballet. Many in attendance also noted that the ballet should be performed in Greece as soon as possible.
Among those present were supporters of the MetLiveArts program including the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Chief Administrative Officer and Co-Chief Operating Officer Vasili Tsamis, ABT supporters, and representatives from the Greek Consulate in New York, Director of the Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs Georgios Michailidis and Cultural Attache and Public Relations Officer Evelyn Kanellea. Also present were the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Principal Cantor and New Director of Culture and Axion Estin Foundation Executive Director Nektarios Antoniou, historian Fotios Kaliampakos, and Greek Press Office Attache Dora Trogadi.
Of Love and Rage is set for its world premiere in March 5, 2020 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. The New York Premiere is set for June 2, 2020 at the Metropolitan Opera House where the ballet will be given seven performances through June 6.
More information about ABT is available online: abt.org.
And more information about the Met is also available online: metmuseum.org