Review: American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Whipped Cream’ at the Kennedy Center

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Take a step away from the mundane. Shrug off your office separates, buff hose, and business professional thoughts, and riggle into a world more like a pop-up children’s book than the screaming headlines in this morning’s Washington Post. If you are ready to indulge a sweet tooth or have a craving for excess, a whimsical work awaits in American Ballet Theatre’s exuberant  Whipped Cream with choreography by Alexei Ratmansky and music and libretto by Richard Strauss.

American Ballet Theatre's Whipped Cream. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Originally created as Schlagobers in 1924, Whipped Cream received its world premiere on May 9, 1924, at the Vienna State Opera after the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. Sets and costumes by Mark Ryden harken back to that era as boys clad in white satin shorts bound and cavort, to be eventually carried away in a clever horse-drawn carriage. An out-sized figure dominates – part puppet with a head as large as a body, and a body that wobbles beneath shaky stilts and liturgical vestment. These characters guide the story and narrate in different guises, creating a visual sense of glee onstage. Part human, part puppet, they are the three-dimensional or 1924 period-appropriate answer to a filmmaker’s tightly framed close-up or the documentarians  “talking head.”  

The celebration is a first communion and a confectioner’s shop frames the overabundance. There are Marzipan Men, Sugarplum Men, and Gingerbread Men all intricately weaving with stunning style and rock-solid control. There is a lot to look at including the endless details of shop decor, the saturation of pink and the labeled containers for Princess Praline (Sarah Lane) and Prince Coffee (David Hallberg).

Chaos takes hold and the overall effect is of confusion despite smart and delightful whack-a-mole entrances from the canisters and Sarah Lane’s luxurious and supple technique. Relationships and pattern, though unmistakably present, get lost in the clutter. Truly gifted, world-class dancers are performing fouette turns, grand extensions, yet the emotional register is too busy with all the mass.  

Costumes take details into high gear with numerous accessories, striped patterns, and hats. Sixteen whipped cream women are clad in white from pointed head, to finger tip, to swirling chiffon. As dry ice wafts fine vapor, and the women swirl and swirl, there is nothing left to the imagination, just a vague feeling of enough is enough.

Running Time:  Two hours, with one 20 minute intermissions

American Ballet Theatre: Whipped Cream, plays on Saturday, Feb 3, 2018, at 1:30 pm and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb 4 at 1:30 p.m. in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online