American Ballet Theatre’s latest production is the delicious extravaganza titled Whipped Cream. Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky and designed by Mark Ryden, it is jam packed with visual adorableness and nonstop dancing.
The original Whipped Cream (Schlagober) was presented in Vienna in 1924 with music and libretto by Richard Strauss and choreography by Henrich Kröller. In the present incarnation, Ratmansky has choreographed with a classical-ballet vocabulary slightly tempered by original and modern elements.
Some of the dances were more successful than others. A major standout was the “Whipped Cream” section, where the ballerinas were dressed all in white with filmy fabric and a white cap on their heads topped with a little point; well, like whipped cream. Their entrance down a ramp was reminiscent of La Bayadere, although in this case, there were fewer ballerinas. The lovely and inventive patterns for the corps de ballet brought to mind the swans and wilis of Petipa’s “white ballets” (Swan Lake or Giselle), but this was wholly original, and a beautiful addition to the ever-growing list of important works choreographed by the prodigiously talented Alexei Ratmansky.
Although Whipped Cream is a “story” ballet, the nonsensical plot was little more than an excuse to present the dancing. The first act began with a lot of pink, including a horse-drawn carriage. The really cute stage-crafted pony (performed by Marcus Salazar and Alice Stratmann) drove schoolchildren off the stage and then the curtain rose to reveal the delightful confectioner’s shop, which was also predominately pink. The children danced about while they ate all manner of sweets, and once they left, characters like Princess Tea Flower (Isabella Boylston) and Prince Coffee (Alban Lendorf) came forth out of oversized tins. There was the prerequisite pas de deux and a number of variations with Prince Coffee’s guards, the Princess’ attendants, Marzipan archers, spear-wielding Sugar Plums and swashbuckling Gingerbread Men. Although the different groupings were pleasant, and allowed the opportunity to admire the splendid costumes, it did seem to go on a bit long.
Once the second act began, things perked up and the performance became even more engaging. The Boy (Daniil Simkin) became more of a focus to the plot, which continued to be cartoonish, including a fevered dream in which The Boy, who had eaten too many sweets, ended up in the hospital attended by a doctor with a big head (literally) and nurses with huge hypodermic needles. Although there was an ominous sense about the scene, it wasn’t too scary (it is child-friendly). At the hospital, The Boy was visited by the most incredibly dazzling cast of fantastical and sweetly phantasmagorical creatures. They were so astonishingly clever and amusing that it’s worth the price of a ticket just to see them for yourself.
The Boy is saved by some bottles of liquor (who provided some vaudevillian comic relief) and traveled to the land of Princess Praline. The dances in this realm were flashy, and Simkin was given the opportunity to show his stuff. He proved that he’s an extraordinarily gifted dancer, with the ability to jump and turn with amazing ease—a real delight to watch. Together with his Princess Praline (Sarah Lane), they were a lovely couple, dancing with great charm, making the second act fun, often funny, and very entertaining.
Overall, I was entranced by the sheer inventiveness on display: the exquisitely beautiful and fabulously delightful sets and costumes by Mark Ryden, Ratmansky’s awe-inspiring choreographic talent, and excellent performances by the dancers of American Ballet Theatre. Whipped Cream could become the springtime equivalent of what The Nutcracker is to winter—a seasonal must-see, especially for the younger generation of ballet audiences.
Whipped Cream presented by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 22-24, 2017 (repeated on June 26-July 1, 2017). Music and Libretto: Richard Strauss. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; set and costume design by Mark Ryden; lighting design by Brad Fields. Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins. Dancers: Daniil Simkin (the Boy); Sarah Lane (Princess Praline); Isabella Boylston (Princess Tea Flower); Alban Lendorf (Prince Coffee); Joseph Gorak (Prince Cocoa); Blaine Hoven (Don Zucchero); Alexei Agoudine (Chef/Doctor); with members of American Ballet Theatre corp de ballet.
Cover: A scene from ‘Whipped Cream;’ photo: Gene Schiavone.
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