No. 1: Eating Too Much Whipped Cream Is the Central Conflict
What happens if we skip dinner and go right to dessert? Will our parents be disappointed? Angry, even? And what happens if we eat too many sweets? Will our parents ban us from sweets altogether? Will we fall so ill from excess Cool Whip that in our feverish dreams we travel to a whipped cream fantasy world, where princesses named Praline and Tea Flower choose mates among princes named Coffee and Cocoa? Will we wake from this candy-addled slumber to discover that we've been exiled to a hospital run by an evil doctor and his nurse henchmen?
Look, Whipped Cream is a ballet, produced by American Ballet Theatre, set in a world that never knew a sugar tax, and reality ought to be checked with our coats at the door. Of course, since the parental policing of dessert consumption is a universal experience, we might consider this story of a boy who eats too much whipped cream and hallucinates as our childhood sweet obsession taken to its most ridiculous extreme.
No. 2: A Princess Does Most of the Rescuing
The protagonist Boy (because apparently Whipped Cream's creator ran out of steam after naming the gentry of candy world) emerges from his whipped cream fugue state to find himself under the care of a sinister physician and a group of nurses wielding enormous syringes. When the nurses aren't looking, Princess Praline and her confectionary retinue arrive to save Boy.
Anyone who knows The Nutcracker might see this as a nice role reversal, the young boy whisked away to a sugar-sweet wonderland by a feminine anthropomorphized inanimate object. Also of note, the doctor appears to have something of a drinking problem, and is eventually done in by his own liquor bottles come to life. Another lesson on the dangers of excess, I guess.
No. 3: There's Something Almost Creepy About the Art
But in a good way! The costumes and set design are by painter Mark Ryden, whose work generally looks like what would happen if Alice went to Wonderland to visit a gallery that also specialized in murder. But, again, in a good way! Ryden's oeuvre mixes the cute, the creepy, and the enigmatic with the kind of precision typically found in the work of the old masters.
When Princess Praline arrives to save the Boy, she rides into the hospital on the back of an enormous furry dog-bear, which the ballet program calls Snow Yak. Also in her procession are what appear to be a giraffe carrying a cane, ladies wearing three-tiered cakes, and a candy cane that's also a worm. Everything is delightful, strange, and, frankly, super-cute—and yet, there's something about all of these beasts that makes me hope they never show up in my dreams.
Ryden's paintings and preparatory sketches used in Whipped Cream's production design are now on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery.
No. 4: It's Been Nearly 100 Years in the Making
Whipped Cream may have a decidedly contemporary, millennial-pink-pop-surrealist vibe, but the original score was written in the early 1920s by German composer Richard Strauss. First called Schlagobers, literally just "whipped cream" in the Viennese dialect, the work was first performed in 1924 at the Vienna State Opera.
It seems that Europe may have found a frothy, treacly spectacle tonally sour during the financial hardships following the First World War, and Schlagobers wasn't a hit. Now, though, going into the opera house, turning off phones, and watching a parade of dessert indulgence seems like a welcome respite from Twitter.
No. 5: It's Actually Pretty Funny
There's something a little disorienting about wealthy ballet regulars laughing during a performance, perhaps because it happens so rarely. But when a ballet is at once lovely and ridiculous enough to elicit laughs when the curtain rises at the beginning and a hearty "Wow, that was everything" from a man wearing a khaki suit when the house lights come up at the end, it transcends mere quirk and becomes a success.
Whipped Cream by the American Ballet Theatre is now showing at the Metropolitan Opera House through July 1. For more information, visit abt.org.
Mark Ryden: The Art of Whipped Cream is on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery through July 21. For more information, visit paulkamsingallery.com.