Mark Ryden’s Sweet Costumes and Sets for ABT’s “Whipped Cream”

The American Ballet Theater presented the world premiere of its newest ballet, Whipped Cream, about a boy who consumes too many sweets and hallucinates about sugary treats, just last night. Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, scored for ballet by Richard Strauss (who also concocted the original libretto), the show features sets and costumes by Pop-surrealist artist Mark Ryden.

Mark Ryden Costumes and Sets for ABT’s Whipped Cream

Ryden’s first foray into stage design, his creation for the two-act ballet are a sugary delight. Some of the characters, such as Mr. Snow Yak, have made appearances in Mark’s work before.

Thanks to Mark, The Los Angeles Times, ABT and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts I can share with you several studies, sketches, backdrops, props, photos and videos Mark created for “Whipped Cream.”

Mark Ryden with props from the ballet

The story starts with Viennese children (performed by ABT dancers), who, after attending their first communion, ride from church in a big carriage to a pastry shop to celebrate. One of the boys shovels down too many desserts and falls into a delirium.

Sarah Lane is Princess Praline with Daniil Simkin as the Boy, photo Ruven Afanador

The end of the first act serves up a twist on the traditional “ballet blanc”: a whipped cream corps de ballet of women dressed in white emerge from the mixing bowl and slide down a chute. When the boy ends up in the hospital, he dreams of a rescue from the doctor by Princess Praline, along with Prince Coffee, Princess Tea Flower and other fanciful, sugary characters. “To contrast with all the light and fluffy stuff, we have the dark, threatening scene of the boy in the hospital,” says Ryden. The liqueurs seduce the doctor and nurses, who then become drunk. The ballet ends with a triumphant celebration of sweets. (source: Joseph Carmen for SCFTA)

Mark in one of his props for the ballet

Mark posted two videos on Facebook which I can no longer embed here. Try the links below to watch on Facebook:
A peek of props being created for the show:
Painting the backdrops

Mark Ryden and ABT’s director of production, N. James Whitehill III, inspect a whipped cream-style slide.


The New York Times reports:
“Whipped Cream” is Mr. Ryden’s first theatrical undertaking. In a telephone interview from his home in Portland, Ore., he said the experience of creating its costumes and décor had been a huge creative departure. “I am used to working in isolation and having complete control,” he said. “I like to create everything with my own hands, but it was a real joy to work with a group.”

Backdrop for Whipped Cream ballet by Mark Ryden

He looked at some photographs from the original production but tried not to be overly influenced by the early designs. Instead, he wanted to incorporate “the 1920s aesthetic of a Viennese pastry shop in a very general way, and then give it a more modern, surrealist edge,” he said. “One of the things I really like about the whole production is the contrast between sweet and disturbing — maybe even frightening — elements.”

Mark with some of the backdrops and props, photo Allen J. Schaben for the LA Times


early character studies by Mark Ryden

For ABT’s production, 11 costume shops produced 200 costumes. The ABT Costume Fund solicited tax-deductible donations to help bring the fantastical confections to life.

Princess Praline costume sketch by Mark Ryden

Ratmansky clearly states that the ballet wouldn’t have happened without Ryden. “I contacted Mark and he said, ‘I’ve never done ballet or theater,’ ” he explains. “But since then, Mark led me into this journey. It all started to take shape.”

Swirl Girl costume sketch by Mark Ryden
Gingerbread Men with swords and shields sketch by Mark Ryden
Niccolo sketch by Mark Ryden
cupcake and candy pages sketch by Mark Ryden
Marianne Champagne costume sketch by Mark Ryden
Princess Tea Flower costume sketch by Mark Ryden
Stella Abrerra as Princess Tea Flower, photo: doug gifford
Betsy McBride as Swirl Girl
Princess Tea Flower Costume, close-up
Some of the final costumes for Whipped Cream, photo LA Times
Mark with some of the costumes for Whipped Cream, photo LA Times
Wardrobe supervisor Tomoko Ueda Dunbar with some of the costumes, photo LA Times
Hats for ABT’s production of Whipped Cream, photo LA Times
Whipped Cream wardrobe supervisor Tomoko Ueda Dunbar with some of the costumes, photo LA Times
Wardrobe supervisor Tomoko Ueda-Dunbar with a costume from Whipped Cream, photo LA Times

“Whipped Cream” will premier at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California this March 15, 2017, and later travel to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on May 22, 2017.

images courtesy of Mark Ryden, SCFTA, Allen J. Schaben for The Los Angeles Times, and ABT, © Copyright 2017 Ballet Theatre Foundation, Inc. American Ballet Theatre and ABT are registered trademarks of Ballet Theatre Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.