I love Tchaikovsky. It’s easy to be evil to the magnificent melodrama of his music, making it perfect for the latest show by Russia’s Imperial Ice Stars. By LESLEY STONES
This year’s show is Sleeping Beauty on Ice, and everything about it is absolutely astonishing. The music was pre-recorded by the Moscow State Cinematic Orchestra, rather than played live, but the acoustics are so good at Montecasino’s Teatro that not having a live orchestra doesn’t really detract from the show. Besides, you don’t take your eyes off the skaters for a second.
If you read the synopsis it’s actually quite a complicated story. The cast can be incredibly eloquent without speaking a word, but I’ve no idea how well the kids in the audience understood who was who as the characters came and went.
But with ballet, and ice ballet in particular, the plot is often incidental to the spectacle. “If it moves, clap it” as my partner proclaimed. Especially with the Russians, who thrive on our adoration.
The choreography is perfectly matched to the dramatic score, with stunning acrobatic leaps and daring throws contrasting with the ever-present elegant ice dancing. Although the stage is large for a theatre, it’s still pretty small in ice-skating terms, yet their flamboyant sweeps and swirls make it seem as big as a football field.
The black witch Carabosse (Jurijs Salmanovs) clearly relishes the brooding notes of the Tchaikovsky score. He’s an evil, bold and brazen character, and a stand-out skater among a cast that is uniformly unbelievable.
The show is surprisingly rich in comedy too, with the skaters expressing humour in their movements and exaggerated actions.
The perkiest pair are the footmen (Svitlana Pylypenko and Iuliia Odintcova) who clown around beautifully, communicating with graphic sign language that the Mandela memorial service would be proud of.
The sets are magnificent, and the scene changes so slick that you suddenly think “where the hell did the forest go” as we’re back in the lavish palace. The designers have excelled themselves with huge chandeliers that glisten like Christmas trees and ice rinks on two levels. That allows a waiter to skate around drunkenly on the balcony in one of the small extra touches that add another dimension to the amazing whole.
The lavish set is matched by lush sparkly costumes with grand capes and flimsy gowns that flutter gorgeously in the slipstream.
Artistic director, Tony Mercer, has earned a reputation as the world’s leading creator of theatre-on-ice. He recruited Russian Olympic coach Tatiana Tarasova to coax the 26-strong cast of Olympic and world championship skaters to take ice dance to new heights.
This is ballet meets Cirque du Soleil with wonderful special effects like thunder and lightening, streaks of fire across the ice, fire jugglers and a flying princess.
Often the best part of the Imperial Ice shows come after the official storyline is over, when the finale shuns any pretence of a plot and the skaters just show off. This year is no different, with the leaps and flings getting more outrageous as each different character shows off their prowess. It really is a fairly-tale spectacular. DM
The Sleeping Beauty on Ice runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until January 12 then Cape Town’s Artscape Opera House from January 16 -February 9.
Photos: Val Adamson
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer