‘Whipped Cream’ swirls into Hancher with classical ballet made for adults and children

The American Ballet Theater presents ‘Whipped Cream,’ a classical ballet that exhibits immense sets and theatrical performances.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Reporter

After his first communion, a little boy is given sweets and pastries to celebrate the coming-of-age landmark. Following his indulgence of whipped cream, the boy becomes ill and descends into a dreamland-like state in which he believes the doctor and nurses treating him are villains.

Presented by the American Ballet Theater, Whipped Cream will leap onto the Hancher stage on Saturday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Whipped Cream is conceived as a theatrical side to ballet, with acting and intricate dancing being balanced by the dancers.

“It’s on pointe, classical ballet,” said Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of American Ballet. “But there’s character built into the steps for a specific reason. It highlights why we have the word, ‘theater’ in our title.”

The choreography, created by American Ballet artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky, is classical and is demanding because the steps are put together in a way that the audience is unable to see the difficulty of it, McKenzie said.

“It’s a unique style, and different from most classical ballet,” said Betsy McBride, an American Ballet corps de ballet dancer. “The steps are quirky and stylized, but the scenes are more characterized, because there’s more acting in them. There’s a wow factor to it.”

Behind the choreography is the score and libretto, which was written by Richard Strauss during the 1930s. Mark Ryden designed the elaborate set and costumes, which need seven trailers to tow across the United States and will take two days to unload everything into Hancher.

“This is a huge undertaking for Hancher and the University of Iowa,” Executive Director Chuck Swanson said. “It’s one of the top ballet companies in the world. It’s as big as The Nutcracker but in April.”

Orchestra Iowa will perform Strauss’s music, and 60 stagehands are ready to help move the massive sets. Needless to say, it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of movement.

Along with Whipped Cream, Hancher has hosted other big-name ballet companies in the past few years, including the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet.

People often view ballet as an activity that few partake in. But in Whipped Cream, though its foundation is classical steps and music, is made for not just adults but for children, too.

“For a child, it engages them like a Warner Brother’s cartoon,” McKenzie said. “You can sense that from the body language of the audience. I’m a kid by the time the show ends.”