Richard Strauss’ surprisingly lighthearted score was first staged as a ballet in 1924 to a libretto he also wrote. Strauss is, of course, best known for his serious, dark operas (Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Die Frau ohne Schatten). This work, originally Schlagobers in German, appears to be a whimsical musical detour that, happily, has landed in the hands (feet?) of the very much in demand Ratmansky who, with the superior creative support of Mark Ryden (sets and costumes), Brad Fields (lighting) and, of course, the talented dancers of the American Ballet Theatre produced a candy-colored entertainment that might just serve as its new Nutcracker, a ballet that appeals to both children and adults.
Whipped Cream is centered upon the Boy (Daniil Simkin, who was born to play this role) whose love of whipped cream leads him first to the confectioners’ shop and then into a nightmare of tummy aches and a sadistic hospital staff. Of course, there’s a happy ending.
There’s not much plot. The Boy and his friends visit the confectioner’s shop to celebrate their first communion and the Boy becomes ill over-indulging in whipped cream treats and is taken to a creepy hospital. He recovers and is transported to a land where he can treat himself to continuous dessert confections.
Of course, the confectioner’s buzzes with colorful dancing versions of of cookies, tea, coffee, cocoa and sugar in the form of Princess Praline (a piquant Cassandra Trenary), Princess Tea Flower (the always witty Gillian Murphy), Prince Coffee (James Whiteside in a bravura performance), Prince Cocoa (Calvin Royal III, making the most of a small, but demanding role) and Don Zucchero (the dashing Arron Scott). Princess Tea Flower is wooed by all the men, but winds up choosing Prince Coffee, as anyone who loves good dancing would have done.
Each character had an entourage that fills the stage with cleverly choreographed corps de ballet routines that serve more to fill up time and music, no matter that they are evidence of Ratmanksy’s incredible craftsmanship.
The best moments happen in the second act when the Boy is set upon by menacing nurses with gigantic syringes aimed at his body parts ordered by a sadistic Doctor (Roman Zhurbin, who makes this character amusingly awful, despite being hidden under a costume) who falls under the influence of Ladislav Slivovitz (Alexandre Hammoudi), Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse (Christine Shevchenko) and Boris Wutki (Thomas Forster), all living bottles of liquor that seduce the Doctor into an alcoholic stupor and eventually help the poor Boy escape to Princess Praline’s pretty domain where he is fêted and fed.
Several of the characters wear huge full-head sculptures—including the Priest (Jarod Curley) and the Doctor (Roman Zhurbin)—that are uncannily expressive, even eerie.
Ratmansky’s choreography was too often hidden under the costumes which camouflaged the bodies of many of the dancers. The truckloads of period style scenery also provided somewhat astonishing diversions for the eyes, taking the attention away from Ratmansky’s work. Sometimes too much is too much. (His The Golden Cockerel also suffered from a surfeit of costumes and sets.)
The entire troupe threw themselves into this inspired nonsense with zest and the usual technical excellence for which the ABT dancers are known.
The American Ballet Theatre season concludes the week of July 3 with a Tchaikovsky Spectacular.
American Ballet Theatre: “Whipped Cream” (May 15 – July 8, 2017)
Metropolitan Opera House, 63rd Street and Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-362-6000 or visit http://www.abt.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission