BWW Review: AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE Serves up a Phantasmagorical Helping of Whipped Cream
An overview on the NYC Metropolitan Opera web site of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky's newest work, "Whipped Cream", calls the ballet a "dollop of delightful whimsy". Yet the full-length production by ABT's Artist in Residence, with a run at the opera house from May 23rd to July 1st 2017, is in fact a heaping serving of horror-infused revelry complete with drunken characters and an illness caused by overindulgence in sweets. The child protagonist, danced by an adult, lands in a hospital where he seems to hallucinate. A pair of young boys seated in the row in front of me on the evening of May 24th were clearly not enchanted, and squirmed throughout. In an article in the Playbill, James Sutton's claim that Ratmansky's reimagining of the 1924 "Schlagober", which premiered in Vienna in 1924, "uncannily resembles" the holiday staple "The Nutcracker" seems like a stretch unless Sutton is referring to the original, unsanitized story line by E.T.A. Hoffman.
Indeed, although "Schlagober" was subtitled "A Merry Viennese Ballet in Two Acts", the original libretto by Richard Strauss was true to the genre of childhood fables such as those by the Brothers Grimm that mingle fantasy and fear. Yet Strauss (no relation to Johann), who also composed the score, reputedly said his motivation was "to create joy" as an antidote to the devastation of World War I. In fact Ratmansky's take on the tale does have moments of merriment and joy that I welcomed as a respite during our own turbulent times. In particular, the outrageous and adorable costumes by pop surrealist Mark Ryden for the cadre of dancing confections transported me to another realm. The children dressed as candies and cupcakes were particularly charming.
In addition, I was thoroughly amused by the "white ballet" scene, a staple in classical story ballets, during which the corps girls sported whipped cream headpieces and slid one after another down a ramp in what was surely a parody of the "Kingdom of the Shades" from "La Bayadere". The music for both acts, on the other hand, was mostly leaden and not particularly danceable.
Even so, Danil Simkin in the lead role of "The Boy" triumphed both as an actor and as a technician. His solo toward the end, complete with high-flying leaps, was nothing short of thrilling. Not only that, but his convincingly adolescent love for Sara Lane's sweet portrayal of Princess Praline warmed my heart. Isabella Boylston (Princess Tea Flower) and Alban Lendorf (Prince Coffee) acquitted themselves admirably as well. Alexi Agoudine, a corps boy tasked with wearing outsize heads for his roles as the Chef and the Doctor in order make clear that he was the adult in The Boy's fantasy world, displayed a distinct flair for comedy. That's quite an accomplishment given that he had to rely only on body language and not on facial expressions.
The finale, a triumphant celebration of The Boy's escape from the hospital after his whipped cream induced tummy troubles, did live up to the promise of delight. A stageful of whimsical creatures plus some rollicking character dancing to the most appealing music of the evening ended the proceedings on, literally and figuratively, a high note.
Although "Whipped Cream" is probably not destined to become a perennial in ABT's repertoire, the ballet serves at the moment as a pleasant diversion from the current overload of fractious and even horrific news. I suggest that you hurry on over to Lincoln Center in order to catch this Ratmansky creation before the end of the run on July 1st!
Photo by Ruven Afanador