A (Sur)Real Treat

Whipped Cream - Mark Ryden

kid in a candy story, and no I’m not talking about the plot of American Ballet Theater’s ballet “Whipped Cream”

I am frankly talking about the good fortune I feel that Mark Ryden agreed to chat with me for a few minutes amongst the controlled confectionary chaos of preparing for the world premiere of a ballet that features his work in both scenic design and costumes.

Pop Surrealist Ryden warmly smiles as I hand him lavalier microphone to put under his shirt to record audio.  I say “you know the routine” to which he replies “actually I don’t know the routine, I don’t like to do on camera interviews, I don’t know how I got talked into this.”

Yes, I am the recipient of the Golden Ticket, thanks to the persistence and faith of the wondrous publicist at the Segerstrom Center, Scalla Jakso.

He asks if we can move closer the brightly designed candy counter set piece so he can comfortably lean.  It’s a good choice.

The first time for Mark to be involved in an endeavor like this and his second time at the Segerstrom Center in any capacity.  Just last year choreographer and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky reached out to Ryden.   As an introduction, Mark met the production team here at the Center to discuss the possibilities and enjoy ABT’s The Nutcracker.

“I was thrilled, Alexie… I guess he came across a book of my art in Japan I guess quite a while ago. And he had been trying to think of a project possibly to involve me with.  He decided he wanted to bring back this old ballet, I don’t know if you know the story of the original ballet, and we hooked up year and half or so ago.  And he described the project to me and it sounded amazing.”

Whipped Cream, a two act ballet based on Schlagobers, originally performed in Vienna 1924 with music by Richard Strauss.  The ballet follows the story of a young boy who dives too deep into the wonders of a pastry shop with delirious sometimes and disturbing results.

A perfect match to Ryden’s artistic sensibilities.

Mark Ryden

“Alexei has talked about his interest in using me and my art, is that on the surface there’s this kind of sweetness but there’s something underneath that, that has kind of a darker or more subconscious stuff that bubbles up.”

“I would have liked to have just built everything myself. But there has been a lot of amazing people doing great work, so it’s been going really well.”

But translating personal art to professional sets and costumes meant sharing his vision with others, a real hands- on artist, Mark learned to trust the team to turn sketch and drawings into literal living interpretations, characters able to walk and leap and fill a stage with dreamlike wonder. 

“I would have liked to have just built everything myself. But there has been a lot of amazing people doing great work, so it’s been going really well.”

And the wow factor of how to practically create for the dancers, jaw dropping costumes that include the lovely, the frothy, the whimsical and downright giant.

“Those giant heads are amazing. They’re made out of a carbon fiber.  I don’t know if you got a chance to look at one close up.  But they are just feather weight, amazing material.  Pick them up and it kind of deceives your mind how light they are for their size.  But they’re really easy for them to move around in.  It’s shocking how much motion they have.  I mean you can see them performing on stage with it.”

Whipped Cream Giant Head

The tough part behind him, you can feel Mark enjoys this original experience.  Watching him watch the progress, walking around chatting, he seems to be truly involved in this world filled with movement.

“Of course ever since this started I’ve become quite a fan. I got to see Firebird last year in New York.  Saw it from both the perspective of the audience, but then I also go to see it from off in the wings entire production from the side.  And it was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen.  It was just amazing having that proximity to the dancers gave a real appreciation of what they do out here on stage.  The super human effort they put into is… because they float around here magically.  Seem like it’s so effortless, but then they’ll go off stage and just kind of collapse in exhaustion.  You can really appreciate what they’re putting into it.  So it was really amazing.”

Then I shall add the power of sharing and appreciating the beauty of all arts as another reason why I was given this ‘special treat’ to talk with Mark. 

Whipped Cream runs through Sunday, March 19th at the Segerstrom Center.

New York audiences will have their turn May 22nd through July 1st

Mark Ryden will have a NYC concurrent art show at The Paul Kasmin Gallery beginning May 20th

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Maria Hall-Brown
Maria Hall-Brown

Maria Hall-Brown joined PBS SoCal (KOCE) in July of 1997. She is the Executive Producer for Arts and Cultural Programming, and the producer/host of the weekly program LAaRT. In addition, she recently produced the first documentary film about cultural visionary/philanthropist, Henry T. Segerstrom: Imagining the Future. Other documentaries include: Be Brave: Samantha’s Story, Matters of Faith, Bulgarian Rhapsody, and Notes from Europe, as well as many holiday specials. For 16 years Maria worked as producer/reporter for the nightly news program Real Orange and the producer/host of author interview series Bookmark. She has garnered two LA Area Emmys and six Golden Mike Awards by the Radio Television News Association for her work. A proud graduate of the University of California, Irvine, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005. Maria is a passionate supporter of the Arts.

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