Whipped Cream—Viennese Ballet and Pop Surrealism Meet Dark Medicine
The Arts and Medicine
February 19, 2019
Jason F. Wang, BA1; Nicholas A. Soter, MD2; Simon A. Morrison, PhD3
Late in his long and distinguished career, German composer Richard Strauss decided to “go light.” Weary of politically influenced music critics and of economic instability in post–World War I Vienna, Strauss said, “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy.” He composed a Nutcracker-like ballet entitled Whipped Cream (Schlagobers), which premiered at the Vienna State Opera in 1924.
It tells of a boy who is hospitalized for abdominal pain after overeating at a Viennese sweet shop and who subsequently hallucinates about being rescued from a sinister attending physician by a dancing Princess Praline. It’s campy, but underlying this seemingly innocent childhood fantasy of dancing confections was (and is) public distrust of medicine.
In its time, the ballet carried veiled political commentary on relationships between France, Poland, and Russia, symbolized in a dance of anthropomorphic liquor bottles, but the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) 2017 production, with choreography by artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky and sets and costumes by pop-surrealist artist Mark Ryden, emphasizes medical matters.