Alexei Ratmansky is no stranger to unusual experiments. His Serenade After
Plato’s Symposium used a string of male solos to evoke the Socratic dialogue
that inspired its Leonard Bernstein score. He reimagined Firebird as a surreal
exploration of an inner dreamworld. His Nutcracker, with its fierce snowflakes
and rebellious mice, found humor and menace in the too-familiar score.
Now generally acknowledged as today’s preeminent classical
choreographer, Ratmansky’s success has not diminished his willingness to
take chances. His latest ballet for American Ballet Theatre, Whipped Cream,
falls in a category that has long intrigued him: lost or forgotten ballets that
deserve a new life. With a score and libretto by Richard Strauss, the ballet
premiered in Vienna in 1924. It tells the story of a boy who overindulges at a
pastry shop and ends up in the hospital, where he dreams the sweets come
to life. Critics attacked the production as a “billionaire’s ballet,” frivolous in a
time of financial hardship and social unrest. It was written off as a failure.
But when Ratmansky heard the score in the 1990s, he fell in love with a
lush, darkly romantic passage that had accompanied a pas de deux. Then a
principal at Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he choreographed a short piece to it for
himself, his wife (also a dancer) and two others. Now, he has returned to the
score. To design the production, he chose Mark Ryden, a contemporary artist
with a quirky, unsettling sensibility—part fairy tale, part nightmare.
Whipped Cream will premiere this month at California’s Segerstrom
Center for the Arts. While working on it, Ratmansky also choreographed The
Fairy’s Kiss for Miami City Ballet. He recently spoke with Dance Magazine
about his vision for Whipped Cream, his work on The Fairy’s Kiss and why his
ballets are so challenging to dance.
What drew you to the story of Whipped Cream?
It’s a curiosity. The little boy loves whipped cream, overeats and is in trouble.
He is depressed, scared, and finds escape in a vision of Princess Praline and
her entourage. This fantasy saves him from grim reality. I guess psychoanalysis
could find things in this, but Strauss already said so much about it in his music.
How do you mean?
The music tells us a lot. It’s very melodic. It has troubled harmonies; it’s
Alexei Ratmansky is unafraid to revisit ballets that have been written
off as failures—even ones he has tried before. BY HANNA RUBIN
and Renan Cerdeiro
in The Fairy’s Kiss.