ABT’s Frothy Fantasy @ Auditiorium Theatre

4 Stars out of 4

There are certain cultural habits one should adopt at an early age, and seeing American Ballet Theatre’s annual visit to Chicago is one of them.  It’s easy to forget, when there is so much homegrown  high quality dance available, that a touring production should be Do Not Miss, but especially this year, run! do not walk down to the sparkling Auditorium Theatre to overdose on amazing with the visually rich and technically flawless Whipped Cream.

Richard Strauss wrote the music and libretto for Schlagobers, the German word for whipped cream in 1924 to try to revive the moribund resident balletof the Vienna State Opera House where he was co-director.  Believing he should go big or go home, he spend 4 billion kronen (Austrian money) to create the show with choreographer Heinrich Kroller. The ballet premiered during the official celebration of Strauss’s sixtieth birthday.  It’s a birthday cake of immense proportions.  A kind of riff on the Nutcracker, which he may not have even seen, it’s a story of a boy who eats too much whipped cream at First Communion, hallucinates, and moves into an over the top fantasy world.  The sweets shop where he overindulges is populated by Princess Tea Flower, Prince Coffee, Prince Cocoa and Don Zucchero, the ever popular Sugar Man. There are Coffee Guards and Children and Swirl Girls and Marzipan men and eventually event the liquor bottles come to life. Don’t look for a deep plot, though there are rumors that some of the choices in the original production were political.  This ballet is meant as an entertainment light as air.

ABT choreographer in residence Alexei Ratmansky has made a career for himself remounting classic works. He also must believe in going very big :this enormous production is like an animation come to life. Ratmansky teamed up with visual artist Mark Ryden to create a surrealistic visual feast that is at every moment eye popping. The oversized heads of the Priest and the Carriage Driver set us off in a grown up Brothers Grimm style uneasiness, and the scene where the boy is in the hospital and a large blinking eye is overseeing a giant headed grey doctor and his team of nurses with giant syringes is a political commentary today on the messed up nature of US health care. Ryden plays with scale and saturated color so that the entire stage is a living breathing art piece.

And then there is the dancing.  The Boy, Danil Simkin is a child faced Russian bad boy cut from a cloth that has reminiscences of Baryshnikov.  His leaps and footwork are virtuosic pleasures. Sarah Lane as Princess Praline sparkles and delights.  Stella Abrera’s Princess Tea Flower is a brilliant flirt. The Whipped Cream ensemble gives new meaning to the words Stiff Peaks.  The finale, a cavalcade of flashing  steps and geometric patterns, will thrill even the most jaded classical ballet fan. Whipped Cream is a marvel, but if you don’t act fast you will miss it.

Whipped Cream is only playing until this Sunday April 14, 2019 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 Ida B. Wells Drive (50 East Congress Parkway) in Downtown Chicago..For tickets and information go to https://tickets.auditoriumtheatre.org/production/1815/18-19-american-ballet-theatre   or call 312-341-2310.