by DONALD HUTERA
Among colleagues of mine involved in dance, the very tide of this production by the imperial Ice Stars has induced suspicion and a faint trace of ridicule. An ice show with aspirations to high art? You’ve got to be kidding. And yet on its own terms this version of the tale of a prince who falls for a cursed bird-girl really flies.
The show, which is touring the UK until June, can’t help but invite comparisons with its classical ballet source. Purists, be warned. Ringing novel changes on a familiar story, the director Tony Mercer uses a sometimes disconcertingly choppy rearrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score to suit a two-act format.
Here the flock of swans is on blades, not pointe shoes. Butt although the stage floor is covered in three inches of ice, the emotional tone of the performance isn’t frigid at all. Choreographed by a creative, team that includes leading skaters Olga Sharutenko (Odette) and Vadim Yarkov (Siegfried), this Swan Lake juxtaposes lyricism and athletic spectacle. The cast is composed of just over two dozen championship skaters, most of whom are Russian.
That the ensemble routines and string of national dances are so pleasing owes almost as much to the designs as to the skaters’ skills. Eamon D’Arcy’s sumptuous sets and Albino Gabueva’s stylish (and occasionally OTT) Romanov-era costumes are far more appealing than I’ve seen from some ballet troupes.
But there is more at work here than flashy attractions. To introduce dramatic motivation into a genre normally associated with sport or kitsch superficialities is no mean achievement.
The scenario is rendered in clear, broad and sometimes surprising strokes, as when Odette confronts Anton Klykov’s satanically elegant Rothbart rather than merely submit to his machinations. Mercer further subverts ballet convention by doublecasting Odette and Odile.
The flow of feeling between Sharutenko and Yarkov in their pas de deux is echoed in the latter’s partnering of Olena Pyatash’s sparkling not-so-evil Odile. The happy ending is hokey, but on a deeper level also strangely satisfying.