Between April 11 – 14, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) presented the Chicago premiere of Whipped Cream at the Auditorium Theatre. ABT choreographer in residence Alexei Ratmansky’s reimagining of the Richard Strauss libretto and score of the same name in German, Schlagobers, originally made its world premiere on March 15, 2017, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. It was to the tremendous benefit of local audiences that almost all of the principal dancers who participated in the creation of this work, including Daniil Simkin, Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane, danced in several of the Chicago performances.
Whipped Cream is an ensemble piece that takes place in a land of sweets where our favorite pastries and beverages come to life. The predominant red, white and pink color scheme and the sets and costumes designed by artist Mark Ryden, whose paintings are typically darkly cute or oddly fantastical, bestowed the ballet with a strong visual concept that was strongly reminiscent of the children’s board game Candy Land and the bizarre, doe-eyed toys of the 1960’s.
There is to be no doubt that the characters and the locations in which the ballet takes place are most strongly defined by Ryden’s high concept designs rather than the choreography or character development. It’s fantastic to see dancing sugar plums, marzipan and gingerbread, but one can’t help but get lost in the eccentric costuming and beautiful yet overly ornate sets. To the choreography’s detriment, the eye seems constantly pulled toward a parade of endless characters or small, plentiful and fascinating design details. One becomes so lost in exploring the decorative trimmings that attention is not always placed on the performance’s action.
The multiple group choreographies are not without their merit and, needless to say, ABT’s corps is very tight, with only a few, small uniformity issues, but there aren’t any numbers that figure prominently as memorable or impressive. ABT’s Whipped Cream is comprised of spectacular dancers performing entertaining if not entirely remarkable choreography.
The ballet’s strongest dance pieces are its very few solos and pas de deux. In what little dance time he receives, Daniil Simkin, who portrays the Boy, the character that progresses the storyline, makes amply clear why he’s been a prominent figure in ballet for years now. He is a pure charm and the embodiment of his youthful character, while also technically astounding. One feels almost cheated that he is not given more time to dance.
Fellow principal dancers Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane perform the female leads of Princess Tea Flower and Princess Praline respectively. While both prima ballerinas are technically flawless, Abrera felt a little cold as the dainty flower that Prince Coffee, Prince Cocoa and Don Zucchero battle to impress. She’s all smiles, but her portrayal lacked a certain whimsy that would have made Princess Tea Flower more than just a ballerina with impressive technique. The concept of playfulness did not escape Lane, whose Princess Praline was a good match for Simkin’s Boy.
An unexpected discovery came with Calvin Royal III’s portrayal of Prince Coffee. Royal’s long, thin frame elegantly performs the choreography with technical rigor and effortlessness. His lines are clean and elongated yet soft. His dance is unlike that of his counterparts, and it makes him unique, a standout amongst standouts. Another phenomenal dancer to keep a close eye on.
Reviewed at the Auditorium Theatre on 14th of April