If Orange County didn’t already have enough reasons to adore Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream at the premiere on Wednesday, they got another one Thursday night when Herman Cornejo as The Boy arrived on stage with Gustavo Dudamel hair curls hanging in his face. In the same role the night before, Daniil Simkin was able to capitalize on every aspect of his eternally too-youthful appearance that has been an obstacle for him in most principal casting. Cornejo, on the other hand, while lacking height, has never had a problem being perceived as an adult on stage. Thursday night he had to find his inner 7-year-old and convince the audience of the authenticity of his character without appearing to be an obnoxious adult acting childish. We’ll dispense with details and just say that Cornejo was straight out of Art Linkletter’s Playroom. Sure, it was all choreographed; but when he stood still on center stage in his white Confirmation shorts while intensely focused on what was before him and then casually lifted up a foot to scratch the back of the other leg, his kid’s character was cemented.
At the beginning of Act II when The Boy awoke and realized that he was in the hospital and being watched by a twitching eye suspended from above, he reacted quite precisely like ABT's Juliets who upon awaking in the crypt, then turn on their knees to face the back of the stage to look upward while expressing horror at the winged sculptures above. The copying of this moment in MacMillan's staging was obvious the first night as well and came off as Ratmansky trying to make a joke of another choreographer’s superior work. (Thumbs down on this and on any and all quotations, borrowings, and references to other choreographer's creations.)
Over the years we have seen Cornejo dance many brilliant variations in every type of costume. But blistering allegro is not exactly what tends to explode out from under a hospital gown, if you get our drift, the way it erupted from under Cornejo's in his dazzling solo. Many thanks to whoever came up with the idea of actually showing us that the bed pan next to The Boy’s hospital bed was in need of emptying.
Yes, Cornejo was brilliant, and Cassandra Trenary as Princess Praline matched him step for step. In the premiere performance, Sarah Lane’s Princess Praline was sweet and nutty; Thursday night Cassandra’s character was a little more saucy and knowing. Her dancing was stunning in its clarity and force, if perhaps less nuanced than Sarah’s. Every arabesque made a strong statement. Every position was crystalline. All in all, she gave an exceptional performance and was a very good match-up with Cornejo. Sure, there were a couple of PdD elements that could have been more smoothly coordinated between the two, but their chemistry was vibrant. Cassandra has one of the bolder stage personalities that Cornejo has danced with, and it brought a little extra out of him.
Hee Seo and Cory Stearns as Princess Tea Flower and Prince Coffee made less of an impression than Abrera and Hallberg the night before. There was prettiness in Hee's dancing and a coyness in her expression, but not much else. Her dancing didn’t have the crispness and definition that Abrera’s had. Cory’s Prince Coffee came out strong and steamy but soon after seemed decaffeinated. His actual dancing was very good — no complaints whatsoever – but the development of character dissipated early on.
Calvin Royal III’s Prince Cocoa was terrific. He had good control of those incredibly long limbs and had a deep stage presence. Perhaps he wasn’t the whiz that Joe Gorak was the night before, but who is? Arron Scott as Don Zucchero also danced well, but like last night, we found ourselves wanting to turn our eyes away from that unfortunate costume.
Christine Shevchenko, Alexander Hammoudi, and Thomas Forster were magnificent as the three liquors. Mature artistry, fabulous chemistry, knife sharp dancing technique among the three made this much more than a PdT of bufoonishness.
Once again, the stars of this production were the designs by Mark Ryden. If Whipped Cream were on Broadway, Ryden would win a Tony Award which he would then share with Camellia Koo and Holly Hynes who managed the processes that brought his imagination to life.
This ballet is a marketeer’s dream; it is hard to imagine a ballet being easier to sell. It's possible to think of hundreds of ways to whip up enthusiasm, if not hysteria, about it. But ABT, always in a “let it sell itself mode” is not likely to engage in any aggressive or creative marketing. We just have to pray that we don’t see a revised version of that 20-year-old TV spot with the same droning announcer’s voice hawking the season like a public service announcement encouraging everyone to get flu shots.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a delight that comes in either vanilla or chocolate (recipe on cakecentral.com), is bestowed upon Herman Cornejo for his detailed, brilliantly danced creation of The Boy.