Children will see a magical world of colorful confections dancing across the Hancher stage Saturday (4/6) afternoon and evening.
Adults, however, will see through those layers into a more sinister filling as the action leaps through a story re-imagined from “Schlagobers” (“Whipped Cream”), a full-length ballet Richard Strauss penned in the early 1920s.
It’s the story of a young boy and his friends, who go to a confectioner’s shop after celebrating their first communion. The Boy becomes ill after eating more than his fill of his favorite sweet: whipped cream.
After the children leave, the sweets spring to life in the shop, and the scene fades into the Boy’s whipped cream fantasy world. He awakens, however, in a sinister hospital room, tended by a doctor and his army of nurses. While they are away, Princess Praline arrives with her own procession to rescue the boy and whisk him off to her kingdom.
“It’s a wonderful combination of a bit of drama within the sweet and colorful part of it that you see in this journey,” Luciana Paris, 37, said by phone from her home in Harlem. “It’s a wonderful ballet.”
A native of Buenos Aires who began her training there at age 7, she joined American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet in October 2001. She was appointed a soloist in August 2015 and will perform the role of Princess Praline for the first time at Hancher.
“It’s very tender,” she said of her role, “almost like bringing him back, and even though he was in pain, the Land of Sweets was his coma. She brings him back to life in this dream surrounded by all these sweets that were actually really bad for him, but he gets to enjoy that dark side.”
Paris also is enjoying the chance to flex her acting acumen with this role.
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“I usually feel complete when I get to dance and it’s not necessarily something that’s just technical,” she said. “When I have the chance to combine both, there’s always so much more to add. And this role has that sweetness. It has a lot of moments that allow me to play within the storyline. I get the chance to make it my own, so it’s quite a treat.”
The tale, re-imagined and choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, made its world premiere in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 15, 2017, and its New York premiere on May 22, 2017. Chuck Swanson, Hancher’s executive director, is thrilled to bring such a new work to Iowa audiences.
“Hancher is always presenting a broad range of offerings each season — a lot of the classics, a lot of the traditionals — but then it’s also good to present something that’s new, something that’s fresh, something that’s just come, in this case, into the dance world,” he said.
“What I love more than anything about ‘Whipped Cream’ is that it spans the entire age range, from young people all the way up to older folks. This is a joyful experience that anybody, no matter how old or young, will come and indulge themselves in. They will love every minute of it. What I’ve heard from ABT is that they have never heard more oohs and aahs in the audience from any of their other performances than ‘Whipped Cream.’”
He’s also excited that local dancers ages 8 to 30 could audition to be part of the production, as well as having Orchestra Iowa performing Strauss’ musical score.
“We’re so fortunate to have such talent within our community, and then bringing them together with a professional company from New York City — that’s exceptional,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s engaging the community along with engaging world-class artists, and that creates experiences that people will remember forever and ever.”
It’s the second ballet Orchestra Iowa has performed at Hancher, after providing music for the Joffrey’s reinterpretation of “The Nutcracker” in 2016. It’s an opportunity Maestro Timothy Hankewich doesn’t take lightly.
“First, it gives the orchestra an opportunity to expand their repertoire and to perform outstanding works on a grand scale that we would otherwise not get the chance to do,” he said. “Secondly, to share the stage with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions makes us stand a little straighter, perform with a little more conviction, and inspires us to swell our chests with a little more pride.
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It’s the only ballet he knows of by Strauss, and said it contains the elements for which the composer is known: “sumptuous orchestral colors, exceedingly virtuosic passagework, heroic anthems and an unending display of musical imagination when it comes to representing the various characters on stage.”
Ratmansky’s choreography is demanding for dancers like Paris, as well.
“Technically it’s challenging,” she said. “Making that technical difficulty look not just seamless, but also that it doesn’t shadow the acting — that’s the challenge in this, for me. It’s such a gift to be able to put myself in that story in the rehearsal process and find new things every day. Of course, going on stage is like the extra strawberry on the cake — with the lights, with the costumes, with the orchestra, with the live music — it’s another level, so it’s very exciting.”
She’s also excited to be working with the 29 local young people and adults who were cast as “extras” in the show.
“For a young dancer to see all these grown-up dancers, professionals, work on stage or in the studio will give them a sense of community and how to work in big groups, and to just understand how important respect is,” she said.
“I remember my years in school and being able to be one of those kids working with the grown-ups, and these days I remember things I didn’t think I was getting back then. It’s such a nice formation to grow up surrounded by beautiful music, by beautiful costumes and sets. And seeing all these beautiful dancers is such a great influence artistically and as a human being. You’re showing so much beauty all combined in one show — and you’re in it, also. It has such a weight.
“We all go to the theater to get inspired, to be taken somewhere else, but at the same time, there’s always something you can take that relates to the real life. There’s always something you learn that you take with you. ... For the kids being part of the performance, they might not necessarily see it now, but it will stay with them forever.”
WHAT: American Ballet Theatre presents: “Whipped Cream”
WHERE: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City WHEN: 1 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday (4/6)
TICKETS: $20 to $80, Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1-(800) HANCHER or Hancher.uiowa.edu/2018-19/AmericanBalletTheatre
MORE INFORMATION: Abt.org/ballet/whipped-cream/