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Confectionary Fluff

Orange County
Segerstrom Hall
03/15/2017 -  & 16, 17, 18, 19 March 2017
Richard Strauss: Schlagobers, opus 70
Daniil Simkin*/Herman Cornejo/Jeffrey Cirio (The Boy), Sarah Lane*/Cassandra Trenary (Princess Praline), Stella Abrera*/Hee Seo/Isabella Boylston/Gillian Murphy (Princess Tea Flower), David Hallberg*/Cory Stearns/Alban Lendorf/James Whiteside (Prince Coffee), Joseph Gorak (Prince Cocoa), Blaine Hoven (Don Zucchero), Alexi Agoudine (Chef, Doctor), Catherine Hurlin (Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse, Princess Tea Flower Attendant), Duncan Lyle (Ladislav Slivovitz), Roman Zhurbin (Boris Wutki), Joshua Binowitz (Nicolo, Master of Ceremonies), April Giangeruso/Paulina Waski/Katherine Williams (Princess Tea Flower Attendants), Patrick Frenette/Calvin Royal III/José Sebastian (Prince Coffee’s Guards), Skylar Brandt/Breanne Granlund/Luciana Paris/Rachel Richardson (Princess Praline’s Swirl Girls), Courtlyn Hanson/Betsy McBride/Elina Miettinen/Rachel Richardson (Children, Whipped Cream), Jonathan Klein/Tyler Maloney/Gabe Stone Shayer (Children), Garegin Pogossian/Sean Stewart/Simon Wexler/Zhiyao Zhang (Marzipan Men), Zhong-Jin Fang/Anabel Katsnelson/Xuelan Lu/Gabrielle Perkins (Whipped Cream), Joo Won Ahn/Sung Woo Han/Cameron McCune/Patrick Ogle (Sugar Plum Men), Gray Davis/Daniel Mantei/Nathan Vendt/Marshall Whiteley (Gingerbread Men), Zhong-Jing Fang/Courtlyn Hanson/Courtney Lavine/Betsy McBride (Children), Alexandra Basmagy/Kathryn Boren/Claire Davison/Brittany DeGrofft/Scout Forsythe/Courtney Lavine/Kaho Ogawa/Courtney Shealy (Whipped Cream, Nurses), Hannah Marshall/Kelley Potter/Wanyue Qiao/Jennifer Whalen (Nurses), Regan Bryant (Priest), Pierce Bryant (Carriage Driver/Pink Yak), Anthony Jackson/Mariana Vargas (Carriage Horse, Snow Yak), Logan Cooper/Emily Engel/Owen McLarand/Karis Oishi/Sumitra Tamang (Cupcake Children), Katie Brubaker/McKenzie Rogers (Cake Ladies), Clementine Greely (Gumball Lady), Kyle Pickles (Chocolate Chip Man), Mark Scheidker (Parfait Man), Remy Ramírez (Chef Head Man), Kendall Bottjer (Long Neck Piggy), Mallory Sweeney (Cherry Head), Richel Ruiz (Worm Candy Man), American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet
Pacific Symphony, Paul Manaster (Associate Concertmaster), Ormsby Wilkins (Conductor)
Alexei Ratmansky (Artistic Director and Choreographer), Mark Ryden (Set and Costume Designer), Holly Hynes (Costume Design Supervisor), Camellia Koo (Scenic Design Supervisor), Brad Fields (Lighting Designer)

(© Gene Schiavone)

If comfits are a comfort to any child’s life, they’re not in dire shortage inside this glazed, arcane work by Richard Strauss. Back in 1924 Whipped Cream (better known in German as Schlagobers) was loosely coined “The Billionaire’s Ballet” due to wealthy patrons’ support of the ballet as a means to raise money to revive the failing Vienna Operntheater in the aftermath of World War I. Though excesses in the 20th century came by way of monetary infusion, here we find dulcet extravagance in the form of over-the-top tangible assets in this new World Premiere production by American Ballet Theatre (ABT.)

Musically, Schlagobers sporadically glances back to Der Rosenkavalier (1911) while much of the sinister, seductive weight is gleaned from Salome (1905.) The penultimate movement shines with melodrama and Strauss’ 1912 one act opera with prologue, Ariadne auf Naxos. But, overall, the two-act ballet journeys on its own separate path of Strauss-defined distinction.

After 20 years of contemplation, former Bolshoi Artistic Director Alexei Ratmansky realized his vision with help of pop-surrealist Mark Ryden. “Sugar”, that word everybody talks about and its addictive fallout, creates the perfect ingredient for the Oregon-native to whip up quasi-morbid twists amidst drizzles of superficialty. Mr. Ryden is indescribably gifted with detail, combining high and low art: here we meet Hieronymus Bosch, Edward Scissorhands, The Nutcracker, a bit of steampunk glancing at Hugo and bathed inside filigreed proscenium arches.

Though Mr. Ratmansky traditions with tradition, the unstuffy and calming choreographer believes in pushing the classical envelope by “reawakening” stories to create new synergies. Cases in point are his re-calculations of Asafiev’s The Flames of Paris and Prokofiev’s The Bright Stream. But, altogether, there’s a distilled, sharp abruptness capriciously interrupted by obtuse persuasions. Schlagobers follows this pattern via the four principal dancers. Balletomanes favoring fluidity and grace will find these respites fleeting. The best extensions can be found inside Daniil Simkin’s and Sarah Lane’s pas de deux early in Act II. Prior to this pairing the Tanz der Prinzessin reveals the pinnacle solo that’s lined with a range of hues: sassiness, impishness, and coquettish allure; the pas demonstrates her pliability and elegant allongés all triggered amidst Ariadne auf Naxos-like stylization. Richard Strauss’ score lends itself to jarring, quirky movements, making Schlagobers glance more towards modern jazz. Mr. Ratmansky favors entrechats throughout, and this (step) somewhat mollifies the hard edges.

Accentuating Mark Ryden's occult reaches, artist Michael Curry pulls out of a bag an assortment of Mardis Gras puppet heads. Those familiar with opera will find these faces creepily steeped in lineage from John Macfarlane’s wardrobe in The Met’s 2007 production of Hänsel und Gretel. The cloth occasionally presents a conundrum: while the garbs’ textures, colors and design aesthetically contrast with scenic backdrops, over lavishness trumps functionality. The Boy’s grandes jetés are stilted by restrictive trousers while the Schlagoberwaltzer concluding Act I finds fées draped in diaphanous veils yielding ethereality, yet forgoing vestiges of decided crisp geometry.

(© Gene Schiavone)

Injuries are somewhat of a common thread inside this Schlagobers. ABT’s principal dancer Misty Copeland, originally scheduled to dance the role of Princess Praline, was injured shortly before this engagement only to be replaced by Skylar Brandt. Dressed in a verdant feathery tutu, Stella Abrera takes to the stage with an élan of distant exotica while charming the recently recovered David Hallberg in the role of Prince Coffee. Mr. Hallberg, bearing wonderful long legs, has such a stage presence, and he positions his arabesques beautifully though we hardly see enough of his talent.

Adding to the ballet’s blithering farce are musical glances pointing back to Emmanuel Chabrier’s 1887 opéra comique, Le Roi malgré lui and the bombastic bumps found inside the Fête polonaise. The Allgemeiner Tanz (Finale) brings back memories of Baron Ochs and the closing tanz inside Act II of Der Rosenkavalier. The music allows a parading of characters to front stage for final bows while frenetic dancing mulls in the background, all driven forward with appropriate tempo set by Ormsby Wilkins. Delightful! The vibe is reminiscent of the Gallop from August Bournonville’s Napoli. It’s no wonder: Alexei Ratmansky choreographed for the Royal Danish Ballet.

Innovative and ingenious engineering has been infused into this production. It’s been said Mark Ryden was very involved in the dance movements throughout Schlagobers. Confections bring smiles, but the cream may be overly whipped.

American Ballet Theatre

Christie Grimstad



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