I confess that sometimes I don’t understand why one ballet succeeds and another fails. Whipped Cream is not, for me, as great a Ratmansky ballet as The Golden Cockerel but I don’t doubt that the former will stay in the repertory while the latter will quietly be allowed to lapse into obscurity. It’s possible that The Golden Cockerel is too complex a story and too steeped in Russian folklore compared to the more universal appeal of Whipped Cream. Whatever the case, Cockerel has struggled to find an audience while Whipped Cream is a runaway hit. Ratmansky excels at telling a story and both of these dances are well told tales but there is an innocent simplicity to Whipped Cream which, when coupled with Mark Ryden’s fantastic costumes and sets, will likely make this a keeper. The story, music and choreography have their strong and weak points in this ballet but Ryden’s visuals tap into Carnivalesque archetype with keen resonance. The imaginary characters, confectionery costumes, and oversized papier-mâché heads lend the ballet an air of magical realism that transform it into more than it is.

Daniil Simkin (The Boy) in <i>Whipped Cream</i> © Gene Schiavone
Daniil Simkin (The Boy) in Whipped Cream
© Gene Schiavone

The first act has a quick set up: after their first communion, a group of children go to the confectionary shop and The Boy – Daniil Simkin filling in for the injured Herman Cornejo –eats too much whipped cream. He’s carried off to the doctor’s office. Then the various sweets come out of their hiding places to have a little fun. Variations ensue. The men’s corps de ballet has an overly long dance and then there’s Cocoa and Zucchero who seem frankly gratuitous. Princess Tea Flower, Gillian Murphy, and Prince Coffee, James Whiteside, engaged in a lot of silly frolicking that was fun to watch even if the choreography is not Ratmansky’s best. The first act closed with the whipped cream dancers, the only part of the ballet that I truly disliked. The music meandered, as did the choreography, while the floaty white chiffon capes they were wearing obscured their movements. It looked like a mess.

ABT in Ratmansky's <i>Whipped Cream</i> © Gene Schiavone
ABT in Ratmansky's Whipped Cream
© Gene Schiavone

The second act was more successful. Opening with Simkin in a hospital bed, it had an air of comedy tinged with paranoia. A large eye projected on the backdrop kept an alternately ominous and skeptical eye on everything. The nurses wielded enormous syringes that were simultaneously amusing and terrifying. The liquor trio featured Christine Shevchenko as Chartreuse, Alexandre Hammoudi as Slivovitz and Thomas Forster as Vodka. They conspired to get the doctor and nurses drunk so The Boy could escape to Princess Praline’s domain. Shevchenko ran away with it, making her part the highlight of the night. Proving that she’s still an odds-on favorite for early promotion to principal, Cassandra Trenary’s Princess Praline was a perfect match for Simkin. She is capable of startling, blistering speed but also moves with incredible fluidity. Notwithstanding all his bravura tricks, Simkin is more of a lyrical dancer and the two of them are natural comedians. It was pure pleasure watching them together. Their pas de deux was one of the most adorable things I’ve seen on stage. The climactic ending was vintage Ratmansky. He knows just how to bring it all together and bring the show to a close. He turned Simkin loose and let him do a few of his great tricks, he was tossed in the air by the company and then it was the full company on stage, jumping up and down.

Some of Richard Strauss’s music worked perfectly for the ballet but other sections were more suited to the concert hall. Give credit to the ABT orchestra, they played the densely layered score with a rich and deeply textured sound. The story is on again, off again as is the choreography but the comedic parts all work and it is seldom less than engaging. But the real success story here is Mark Ryden’s sets and costumes. Bravo to the artist.