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Whipped Cream (and other delights) – The American Ballet Theatre

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Not everyone is a fan of classical ballet—it’s formal, it’s traditional, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s often filmed poorly (thanks to video crews who don’t necessarily know much about the art form), and many people, unfortunately, find it irredeemably boring.

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I went to see the American Ballet Theatre perform in their spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York earlier this year, and if you are looking for an experience that is far from boring, I recommend this as a very good way to have one.

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We were part of a group outing of young dancers, mostly ages ten to twelve (along with their mothers –someone has to chaperone those girls), who were beyond excited for the opportunity to dress up, visit Lincoln Center, and see one of their heroines, Misty Copeland, perform. Their enthusiasm was infectious…one of the most amazing things about young people is their sheer capacity for joy. It’s hard to be a cynic, about ballet, or anything else, when you’re faced with that.

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Scene from American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream. Photo: Gene Schiavone.

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Even if I’d been in less inspiring company, there’s no way I could have possibly found Whipped Cream boring. The first original full-length ballet that ABT had brought to the stage in 20 years, it was choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky (their Artist in Residence), and the set and costumes, enchantingly surreal and whimsical, were designed by Mark Ryden, in his inimitable style.

Set to a little-known Strauss score, the story concerns a boy celebrating his first communion with his friends, who overindulges on sweets at a Viennese confectioner’s shop. After he falls ill and is taken away, the shop comes alive, with marzipan archers, sugarplums, and gingerbread men, a Princess Tea Flower in love with Prince Coffee (whom she chooses over his rivals, Prince Cocoa and Don Zucchero). Sixteen female dancers are whipped cream personified.

Misty Copeland performed, to the girls’ delight, as Princess Praline, who, along with a fantasy menagerie of sweets and mysterious beasts (including such characters as the Pink Yak, Chocolate Chip Man, and Worm Candy Man), rescues the Boy from the sinister hospital he’d been sent to. Dancing liquor bottles (including Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse) intoxicate the doctor and nurses, and the Boy goes off to a celebration in Princess Praline’s domain.

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Scene from American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream. Photo: Gene Schiavone.

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No, the dreamy plot does not make a great deal of sense. But the dancing was phenomenal, the visuals were stunning, and the entire enterprise was weird and wonderful, full of good cheer, the familiar blended seamlessly with the peculiar.

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We followed the performance by waiting outside the stage door for autographs. We didn’t get to meet Ms. Copeland, but the girls were given her autographed picture, and were fortunate enough to meet several of the other dancers, including Jeffrey Cirio, who played the Boy, and could not have been more gracious to his young fans. We then walked over to Columbus Circle for a lovely dinner at Landmarc in the Time Warner Center. It was surprisingly kid-friendly, and a beautiful place to relax after the show, with some quality bistro food and generous glasses of wine for the moms. Nothing boring about that, either.

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ABT will be performing Whipped Cream early next year at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, in March. I imagine it will continue to enchant young dancers, their chaperones, and anyone else open to a little pop surrealism mixed with their classical ballet.

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image – Scene from American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream. Photo: Gene Schiavone.