By BRUCE DENNILL
Cinderella On Ice / Directed by Tony Mercer / Teatro, Fourways, Johannesburg 7.5
Many observers may believe the gimmick in this show – it’s Cinderella, after all, one of the best-known tales in literature – to be that the story is performed on ice; simply moved sideways from a pantomime or ballet context. However, there is much more to recommend this show than ‘only’ the extraordinary athleticism of the performers and the tried and tested appeal of the subject matter.
For one thing, the Imperial Ice Stars (an Australian-run, mostly Russian performer featuring company) have taken that timeless story and changed it – successfully. The Disney layers have been stripped away, replaced by an adapted plot that sees Cinderella (Olga Sharutenko, perhaps the most fluent of a group of magnificent movers) as a young ballet dancer hoping to make her mark; the Gypsy Fortune Teller (replacing the Fairy Godmother, and played by Cape Town-born Fiona Kirk) able to disturb the functioning of clocks; and the dressmaker as a swarthy, cheerful gentleman (Volodymyr Khodakivskyy, an aggressively talented natural skater) rather than a relatively demure female star, as is more often the case.
The broad themes are still the same, with the stepmother (Maria Mukhortova) and stepsisters (Alina Saprykina and Elena Shurakova) still being arrogant and intrusive and an eligible bachelor – in this case the Lord Mayor’s son, played by the elegant Bogdan Berezenko – is still infatuated by Cinderella and desired by her siblings.
The commitment required to make this formula work is evident on a number of levels. Firstly, although the Teatro stage is reasonably large, the rink area is, for a company of 23, pretty cosy, particularly when some cast members are doing leaps or being lifted by partners, their skates whirling around at head height and their blades gleaming under the lights. The choreography is risky and creative – no 6/10 difficulty turns and jumps when an 8/10 or a 9/10 option would do – but briskly well-rehearsed, and these skaters are so talented and experienced that only one slight fluff is noticeable during the entire performance under review, and even that is is so quickly and competently corrected that it makes no difference to the flow of the overall performance.
The costumes complement – and complicate – all this physical effort, with the cast completing what are extended figure skating routines in tails, ball gowns and other less than streamlined but visually appealing options. And the music also steps out of expectations, with Prokofiev’s ballet score jettisoned in favour of a score by Tim Duncan, supplemented here and there by more traditional excerpts.
This makes this an ice-skating show built around ballet, set mostly in a square in front of a theatre, and driven in large part by original music – a combination that brings together a number of fresh approaches to what cynics might have feared would be a cliché.
Apart from remarkable technical skill and attention to detail, the cast also have a collective exuberance that’s infectious and enjoyable, neither as over the top as a pantomime nor as constrained as a classical ballet. There is broad allure here, something to appreciate for all ages and fans of theatre of any kind.