Now this is somekinda Grigorovich Lift! Holy Moly. Fearless Stella. And that Hammoudi can hit a moving target pretty well.
It's not too early to be planning our local Nutcracker tour this year. One we're not going to miss is Veronika Part as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Port Washington on Long Island at the Fadeyev Ballet Nutcracker on December 22nd & 23rd. (Tickets here.) Yaroslav Fadeyev and Veronika first crossed paths as students at the Vaganova Academy and subsequently at the Mariinsky Theatre. He is passing on the tradition to students at his academy in Greenvale.
When you have a few cake formulas and filling ideas in your repertoire, you will find that it’s pretty much an assembly job – you can mix and match a different way every time.
Well, this is fantastic – one of the best TV short pieces that we've ever seen about ABT. Mark our word, there is going to be pandemonium at the matinees when the parade of the final act begins. The actual ABT part of this episode begins at about 2'30".
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.
Last night at the Segerstrom Center in Orange County, ABT served up sweet after sweet in its world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream - a full length ballet to Richard Strauss’s music and libretto entitled Schlagobers (1924), which is the German equivalent of whipped cream. The ballet's main character, a young boy celebrating his Confirmation, over-indulges at a sweet shop, gets sick, goes to a hospital, and has one crazy nightmare. Strauss’s creation did not initially receive much respect from critics who complained that the composer had demonstrated a “dreadful tendency toward triviality and kitsch.” His retort was reportedly, "I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy. I need it.” Oh, my. How much times have not changed.
Whoever said that ballet doesn’t always have to be "a big, pink, puffy, glittery nightmare" forgot to mention just how much fun it is when ballet is exactly that. (Christopher Wheeldon has since eaten his words and has gone on to create some pretty big and impressive puffy stuff himself.) This Whipped Cream, swirled throughout Mark Ryden's brilliant surrealistic designs of pink, pink, and more pink, earns two Michelin stars, i.e., Exceptional cuisine, worth a detour – if your aim is to find a good dessert. If you’re looking for hanger steak and veggies, this may not be the plate for you.
Upon walking through the doors of the Segerstrom Center, Haglund spied The Candy Table. Six dollars got you all the skittles, gummies, and you-never-know-what-you’re-really-eating sugary things that you could pack into a Chinese food carton. “Fill it up. You don’t have to be able to close the lid either,” said the candy-pusher who was also tending bar. “Sure, you can take it into the ballet. Hey, you can get a lot more candy into that carton.” All of a sudden the skittles and gummies were bouncing all over the table and onto the floor as Haglund tried to pack down the contents of his carton.
Up one flight to the Orchestra level lobby and there was another Candy Table and more! A pink Mark Ryden designed tee-shirt?! Gimme gimme. Who could resist the same design in black? Not Haglund. He was now out $66 in souvenirs and candy and hadn’t yet made it to the bar for a drink. The 5-minute bell rang not a second too soon.
Act I opened on a scene so magical that Haglund’s eyes started to mist up. First candy, now a pony! Not a real pony – better than a real pony! Ryden’s imagination was brought to life – larger than life – with enormous character heads spectacularly detailed with curling eyelashes, wrinkly skin, and expressive features. The huge size of the character heads worn by all the adult figures and animals overwhelmed the size of the dancers portraying children and helped to convince us of their youth.
The door of the chapel opened and out scampered children dressed in white confirmation clothes who climbed in the cart behind the pony and ventured off to the pastry shop. Among the children was Daniil Simkin as The Boy whose appetite for sweets got the best of him. Pettifores of petit allegro ensued until The Boy pinked-out with a stomach ache and was carried off to the hospital with his friends following, not to be seen again until Act II.
Now we were in the pastry shop by ourselves (Who hasn't had that dream?) but not really alone. The cakes, candies, and all the goodies suddenly sprang to life. From within the shelves loaded with delights appeared Princess Tea Flower, Stella Abrera, accompanied by her tea leaf attendants April Giangeruso, Catherine Hurlin, Paulina Waski, and Katherine Williams. For those unfamiliar, flowering teas are handcrafted into rosette bundles by tying tea leaves around a flower. The rosette is then placed in a clear glass tea pot or tea cup. As hot water is poured over the bundle, the flower magically begins to bloom as the tea steeps. It’s tea theater, or to some, tea thea-tre.
Princess Tea Flower is a step-intensive petit allegro role of the type that we have come to know in Ratmansky’s ballets. In fact, most all of the dancing in Whipped Cream is in a similar vein. Stella is exceptionally adept at producing the quick, off-centered changes of direction and the unexpected darting quality that the choreographer favors. More than most, she can execute it all while maintaining an airy lightness in the quality of movement thanks to her soft, quiet feet. This she did last night to spectacular effect. In her tutu of green tea leaves with narrow pink bodice, Stella was the jasmine tea flower in full bubbly bloom.
Enter Prince Coffee, David Hallberg, in percolating pursuit of Princess Tea Flower. Their PdD, a light roast with overly complex herbal essences, was always interesting to watch but it was so packed with choreographic minutia that there was very little room for the dancers to contribute their own artistry. In fact, a sense of hyperactivity pervaded most of the dancing throughout the ballet. David’s own solo wasn’t of the type that allowed us to admire his lines and general elegant style, but it was a happy relief to see him not only dancing well but seeming to relish being in the midst of a lot of craziness.
Prince Coffee had some competition for Princess Tea Flower’s affections in the way of Joseph Gorak’s Prince Cocoa and Blaine Hoven’s Don Zucchero, but of course, he ultimately won her over. While Joe Gorak’s variation provided some of the most dazzling dancing of the evening, we may have had trouble appreciating Blaine’s work due to the unfortunate costume design that was rather like a big white tent shift dress.
Act II provided nearly all of the thin story line. The Boy lay sick in his enormous hospital bed on a darkened stage. A glowering eyeball (a Ryden specialty) staring down from above told us that his environment was dangerous. He was, however, rescued by a sweet, slightly nutty Princess Praline, Sarah Lane, who danced her little feet off in allegro so complex and fast that it required Theme and Variations type skills to get through.
Sarah and Daniil (The Boy) danced an enjoyable kinetic PdD with no visible partnering issues. It was all just as complex as the PdD of Princess Tea Flower and Prince Coffee and even had similar choreography. Simkin’s part in this ballet allowed for the most amount of character development which we thought he handled the best that we’ve ever seen from him. His final solo to music from the main waltz of Strauss’s composition was a high-value technical display of the type for which Simkin is best known. But it fit perfectly; after all, here was a boy happy to have recovered from his stomach ache and ready to start all over again indulging in sweets if given the chance.
The final scene of this ballet is to die for. It will send the sugared-up kids of all ages over the edge. Mark our word, the matinees of Whipped Cream at The Met this year are going to be pure pandemonium.
For all the diehard classical ballet fans out there, rest assured that Ratmansky didn’t forget that we all want to see a White Act in a full length ballet. Actually, there are a couple of White Act-type scenes in this ballet. In Act I of Whipped Cream, you may observe something that reminds you of the white Shades in La Bayadere coming down the ramp – if you can think of them slip-sliding on their butts. And in the Act II hospital scene, you may see something that reminds you of a group of fierce Wilis – although they might also remind you of Nurse Ratchet (“It’s medication time, everybody”). Gosh, already we’re giving away too many details.
As for similarities to The Nutcracker, there were very few times during the evening when that came to mind. One of the times was during the PdT of Marianne Chartreuse (Catherine Hurlin), Ladislav Slivovitz (Duncan Lyle), and Boris Wutki (Roman Zhurbin) which came across similar to the three Russian bumbling buffoons in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker. Perhaps the two men made us think of the Nutcracker buffoons because they have always acquitted themselves so well in those particular roles, too. The Marianne Chartreuse character seemed to be modeled off of the Princess Tea Flower character in her ditziness and coyness – too much so.
Last evening was a complete pleasure and we’re looking forward to this evening as well. Whipped Cream is whipped cream. It’s not caviar. Some weeks ago, we wrote that we were anticipating this ballet in the way we approached The Met Opera’s Hansel and Gretel which isn’t many people’s favorite opera, but it draws large audiences of both adults and children due to the incredible production values. Our approach turned out to be right on target. The fantastical production values of Whipped Cream make this ballet a special treat and one that as many children as possible should see. Surely, it will draw the New York art crowd interested in Mark Ryden’s unique work and maybe bring them back for other ballets as well. For a first foray into translating his art for the stage, this is a spectacular success. If the choreography simply goes along for the ride, that’s okay, too.
Bravo to the whole creative team and especially to the dancers for their outstanding performances all evening. The proverbial icing on the cake last night was the return of David Hallberg to the ABT stage after a long injury-induced absence. We're so happy to see him on stage again.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a torta zapato, is bestowed upon Mark Ryden who back in 1998 presented a solo art show in Pasadena that was called The Meat Show and featured, yeah, that. Almost 20 years later, he's back in town with his desserts.
ABT has posted some Whipped Cream costume photos on its website. There are some very imaginative designs including the costume in which Justin Souriau-Levine seems to have graduated from the Little Mouse in Nutcracker to the Master of Ceremonies in Whipped Cream. How time flies.
Before anyone begins grumbling about this production being copied off of The Nutcracker, please be aware that the original Whipped Cream ballet, under the German name Schlagobers (1924), preceded the popularity of The Nutcracker which had its first performances in the U.S. in 1944.
The costumes from 1924 were pretty outlandish. Here is a link to an image of the original production at the Vienna State Opera maintained at the U.K.'s Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Digital Library. Here's another one from Theatermuseum - Straus und die oper.
Here's hoping that ABT knocks it out of the park with this production and that it draws a lot of interest from the family-oriented audience. It's odd how there is no mention from ABT that Ratmansky already choreographed this ballet in 1994 with Tatiana in the lead. We're wondering if this is all new or if it is part revision. It doesn't really matter. Today's choreographers don't seem too keen on revising their works after the initial publicity dies down; so, if an important one shows that it can be done successfully, that will be a plus – maybe even start a trend.
Looking forward to the premiere.
Reminder about the Lincoln Center Festival Jewels jubilee tickets:
Pre-sales are in process for donors. From LCF:
This is the schedule:
Monday, February 27: Member levels $1,000 and above
Monday, March 6: Member levels $500 and above
Monday, March 13: Member levels $100 and above
Monday, March 29: General Public
We will be announcing the full lineup for Lincoln Center Festival on March 20, so stay tuned.
This is going to be such a huge event!!!
Speaking of huge events, don't forget about the April 14th YAGP tribute to Julio Bocca which will also mark his 50th birthday. What a perfect year it would be for him to move back home to New York. What a perfect time it would be for ABT's board to do something about the sorry state of the company's directorship.
Look at this video of Julio as he speaks (in Spanish) so articulately and passionately about his company Ballet Nacional Sodre. He is so youthful and full of energy. Imagine all of the glorious Latino talent from around the world that would be beating down the doors at ABT to get in if Julio were the director here. (Print summary here.)
If more of ABT's board members would get out to see the quality of dancing at NYCB, they would realize what a piss poor job McKenzie is doing. Very few of the ABT dancers, regardless of rank, would qualify for a corps position at NYCB. The difference in institutional achievement is that stark.