'Whipped Cream' treat at HK Arts Festival

March 28, 2018 17:00
A scene from American Ballet Theatre's 'Whipped Cream', which helped the Hong Kong Arts Festival close on a high note this year. Photo: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre, making a welcome return to the Hong Kong Arts Festival, brought a brand new two-act story ballet "Whipped Cream". The choreographer is its artist-in-residence, Alexei Ratmansky, who is currently the leading ballet choreographer in the world. "Whipped Cream", which is set to Richard Strauss’s score and lasts just under two hours, was only premiered last year by this renowned American company.

The ballet’s story starts with a boy and his friends receiving their first holy communion. As a celebration, they are then taken to a deluxe sweet shop. The Boy protagonist however becomes sick after eating too much of his favorite whipped cream, and is taken away on a stretcher to a hospital. Fortunately, he is rescued by Princess Praline who whisks him to her fantasy kingdom where he is celebrated by all kinds of creatures.

Ratmansky’s choreography is inventive and resourceful. In Act 1, after the Boy is taken away to the hospital, the focus shifts from him to two other main roles – Princess Tea Flower, and Prince Coffee who loves her. This act is dominated by a long divertissement with both characters at the center. Their duet is angular and intense. Princess Tea Flower’s long solo is full of off-balance turns.

Act 1 ends with a dance by a white corps de ballet of women symbolizing whipped cream. This dance recalls the famous snowflakes waltz at the end of Act 1 of "The Nutcracker".

Act 2 is better structured. The Boy reappears in the hospital with a big-head doctor. The brief section with the nurses each brandishing oversize syringes is funny and witty. In the spectacular procession of droll characters and dolls led by Princess Praline, the giant snow yak is particularly eye-catching. The pas de deux for Praline and the Boy is warm and tender, the choreography is full of soaring lifts. Then follows a dazzling virtuosic solo for the Boy. Princess Praline’s solo has speedy legwork.

The drama of the Boy’s escape from the cruel doctor and the nurses is imaginatively conveyed. And the celebratory finale climaxing in the Boy’s crowning is a joyous feast of dancing.

The first night’s cast was the same as the cast that danced this ballet’s premiere a year ago. Daniil Simkin was endearing and captured the innocence of the leading role of the Boy. And his technical virtuosity was simply breathtaking. Who could forget him circling the stage with his acrobatic jumps and turns at the end of the ballet. Sarah Lane was radiant as Princess Praline.

In the other male lead role, Cory Stearns was handsome as Prince Coffee. Hee Seo impressed as Princess Tea Flower. Mark Ryden’s imaginative sets and costumes are rich and lavish. This new Ratmansky ballet is a delight, closing this year’s Arts Festival on a high note.

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veteran dance critic