Ballet on dry land is never going to thrill me again after watching The Imperial Ice Stars perform Swan Lake on Ice. While the grounded version is a classical beauty, the icy alternative is absolutely spectacular. The cast is a collection of Olympic figure skating medalists and athletes, so this is ballet dancing on steroids. Of course, I do not mean that literally, although there are certainly some super-human feats. By LESLEY STONES.
The show captivates you right from the start, partly because it is such darn fun. Fun and frivolous are not words you would normally associate with Swan Lake, but choreographer Tony Mercer has woven it through with amusing touches led by Prince Siegfried (Bogdan Berezenko), and his friend Benno (Alexandr Kazakov). Benno has the most entertaining role and the most daring choreography, and they are a brilliant match for each other as they fling, fly and leap around.
You will, at some stage, gasp an involuntary “wow” or two. There is nothing prim, prissy or girly about this ballet, and the burly guy behind me let out a succession of succinct comments, like “wow”, “jeez” and even a low, appreciative, whistle. There is something of a real-life fairytale in the story too, because looking distinctly out of place in a cast list of tongue-twisting names like Liubov Bakirova and Kseniya Bezsolitsyna, is plain Fiona Kirk. She is a Cape Town girl, which shows that little girls can dream big, because Kirk is skating the role of the queen. Kirk is an aerial performer too, and plays the Hungarian princess flying around on billowing sheets alongside her fiancé, Volodymyr Khodakivskyy. The choreography keeps all the poise and poetry of classical ballet, so it is just as elegant and graceful as the dry land original. But the ice magnifies rather than diminishes from that grace, and adds a speed and athleticism that make the show truly stunning.
The costumes are gloriously opulent and the lighting is excellent, with the swans appearing out of magical swirling mists. The scenery is also splendid, with backdrops that bring the palace to life, complete with a working fountain. The stage is reasonably small by ice-rink standards, which is great because you can watch almost everything at once, rather than concentrating on one couple and missing another stunning movement further away.
Do yourself a favour and read the story beforehand in the glossy programme, so you know who’s who, what’s what, and why’s why. You can enjoy it just for the spectacle with a basic knowledge of the plot, but when you know the nuances of the story the experience becomes far richer. The programme is a keeper too, with explanations of how the ice is created, and how the show is put together as well as some glorious photographs. The music of course is marvelous, with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake composition studded with highlights that touch your heart. The prince and Odette, the swan-maiden dancing their pas de deux, is one of the most romantic scenes imaginable. At one stage she sheds her skates and dances en pointe on the ice, increasing her air of vulnerability and utter trust in the prince. Then the music turns the mood evil as Baron von Rothbart (Yahor Maistrou) swoops back on stage for the final showdown, and some more mesmerising ice feats. It really is the most beautiful creation. DM
Swan Lake on Ice runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until January 10, then moves to Cape Town’ Artscape from January 14-31.