Dance Review: Cold Comfort, Or Cygn(et) Of The Times

December 9, 2015



The Imperial Ice Stars: Swan Lake On Ice / Directed by Tony Mercer / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways


Broadly speaking, there are two superficial perspectives that arise when classical works are re-imagined to be performed on an ice rink. The first is that no ballet purist would be caught dead buying a ticket for such a production and the second is that the performers are incredible athletes and watching them do their thing will be exciting regardless of the source material.

With regard to the first perspective, it must be noted that this is not ballet and cannot be, for the simple and blindingly obvious reason that everyone is wearing skates and attempting that art form’s traditional choreography would ensure carnage as blades sliced nearby cast members and shredded calves and tendons.

It bears enough resemblance to ballet, however, to guarantee elegance and fluidity rather than focusing only on strength and stamina. “Only” is a relative term here, as the skaters, who move with the lithe precision of dancers, are also able, variously, to leap and twist, do aerial gymnastics and complete lengthy lifts – occasionally of more than one colleague at a time.

The costumes and sets are bright and striking, with Albina Gaueva’s outfit designs beautifully evoking the end of the Romanov era in Russia – the early 1900s. The designs also help to suggest the intent of the characters in the dialogue-free piece, with Olga Sharutenko’s white costume marking her instantly as the enigmatic Odette; Bogdan Berezenko’s stylish wardrobe alluding to his aristocratic background as Prince Siegfried and Yahor Maistrou, as Baron Von Rothbart looking as slick as an old Hollywood screen gangster.

The leads are, as you’d expect, superb skaters, and Maistrou in particular has a persuasive presence on stage. This is apparently his first lead role, but there is nothing at all in his performance to suggest inexperience or nerves. Also notable for his technical ability, energy and good humour is Alexandr Kazakov as Siegfried’s friend Benno.

The rink on which the action takes place is far smaller than you’d expect, likely limited to its size by the optimum depth of field for the Teatro audience. A huge deal of action must take place in that compact area, and the ice takes a beating from the very first scene. As a result, the surface is scarred, particularly in areas where soloists land having completed a complex, twisting leap and this leads to the occasional wobble as skaters land and their blades are pushed momentarily off course by a dent in the rink. This has minor distraction value – audience members are likely to gasp as they watch a performer appear to be headed for a crash and then cheer as the cast member somehow gathers themselves and keeps going.

If you’re a theatre regular, you will definitely see a version of Swan Lake with greater gravitas elsewhere. But the Imperial Ice Stars present their take on Tchaikovsky’s classic with polish and panache, and the production values are impressive throughout. Will the purists scowl? Probably. But the show is entertaining, easy on the eye, fast-paced and easy to follow for audiences new to the story.