From sublimely graceful to daringly acrobatic, the show brings a touch of magic to the stage this festive season. By LESLEY STONES.
Ten minutes into The Nutcracker on Ice I realised I had a silly, delighted grin on my face.
Ballet dancing isn’t for everyone, and ice-skating rarely enthrals the masses. But put them both together, add a touch of circus, a little magic and a whole lot of razzamatazz, and you get a show that’s truly spectacular. And big silly grins in the audience, unless your heart is made of ice.
Russia’s Imperial Ice Stars specialise in glamorous, glorious shows where everything is done in over-the-top style. The scenery is superb, opening with a snowy street scene in St Petersburg, then taking us inside a house with a roaring log fire and a massive Christmas tree.
Those scenery changes just keep coming, giving us one fairytale setting after another.
The opulent costumes by Russian designer Albina Gabueva are dazzling and amusing too, with one number performed by skaters wearing skirts lit up by light bulbs.
Then there’s the magnificent music by Tchaikovsky, with expansive, sweeping themes that lend themselves perfectly to powerful, extravagant swoops and dramatic leaps.
Detractors of ice dancing will ask just how many variations on the movements you can possibly achieve. The answer is a lot, especially when you bring in ice-skating chairs. With a cast of 25 championship skaters, there’s often too much happening to take it all in, so your eyes are roving from one couple to another as they twist and turn and toss and catch. It’s not a huge stage, but they don’t seem in the least confined and the size just adds to the tension as they execute tricky turns and instant stops.
It’s worth having a squizz at the programme first to get the gist of the story, if it’s not already familiar. Christmas celebrations for the Pavlov family take a bizarre turn when a magician arrives and presents Marie with a nutcracker doll. That night, Marie steals downstairs to play with the nutcracker, which turns into a handsome prince and whisks her away to his own country. That’s a veritable League of Nations, with a sugar plum fairy presiding over Chinese, Spanish and a brilliant Arabian dance scene.
The pedigree behind the show is excellent. It’s been choreographed by artistic director Tony Mercer, four-time figure skating world champion Evgeny Platov and world champion Maxim Staviski. The manoeuvres are both sublimely gracefully and daringly acrobatic, with the ice making everything faster, bolder and allowing far more bravado then a standard ballet.
Volodymyr Khodakivshyy as the father performs some breathtaking movements, and several other skaters also provide plenty of “wow” moments as the team pull off some spectacular, daring routines.
The second half brings a circus element, with the Spanish dancers performing some exquisite dancing under arcs of fire instead of castanets.
Then Bogdan Berezenko as the Nutcracker Prince and Anastasia Ignatyeva as Marie perform a gorgeous pas de deux, if you still call it that when it’s on skates, not feet.
At the end, Marie realises it’s all been a fabulous dream. Well, that’s life. But for a couple of hours Nutcracker on Ice pulls you far from reality and immerses you in a spellbinding fairytale.
The Nutcracker on Ice runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until 15 January, then Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre from 19 January to 11 February. DM
Photos: Suzy Bernstein.
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