Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet debuted his new one-act version of The Fairy’s Kiss to Stravinsky’s celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy’s Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy’s kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it,” says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire.” Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.
Whipped Cream has not been staged since its Vienna premiere in 1924. In Strauss’ libretto, set in an ornate pastry shop,a young boy overindulges, and hallucinates that the sweets in the shop have come to life. “Whipped Cream has a fantastical quality,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, comparing it to The Nutcracker and Léonide Massine’s La Boutique fantasque. “I think it will resonate with a non-balletomane the way Nutcracker does.”
When it debuted, critics derided Whipped Cream as superficial and expensive, and the full score wasn’t even recorded until the 1990s. “The score has overwhelming harmonies and texture—it’s very symphonic,” Ratmansky says. He made a short piece using a section of the music when he was a dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. “I waited 23 years to complete it.” Ratmansky requested that Mark Ryden, an artist known for his surreal fantasy images, design the production. It includes 200 costumes, a curlicued, ornate set design evoking a 1920s Viennese milieu, and a slide for the corps de ballet. “His work is creepy,” says Ratmansky. “You see the sinister under the saccharine.” —Hanna Rubin