New Zealand Herald
by Raewyn Whyte
Those amazing skaters from Russia, the Imperial Ice Stars, have returned to the Civic with their version of Swan Lake, a traditional Russian fairytale familiar to ballet fans. The company’s 25 superb skaters are all flash, dash and panache on the ice, the soloists well able to meet the demands of characterisation combined with spectacular manoeuvres, and the corps de ballet displaying the necessary uniformity to create symmetrical designs in space.The story is cleanly told, with events shifting from palace to forest to lakeside and back. Despite a rollicking pace there are enough quiet moments to create the allure and romance and poignancy which are the essence of the plot. This production ups the stakes on what can be achieved on a pocket handkerchief of ice stage, thanks to sophisticated choreography which has as many as 14 skaters at a time tracing intricately choreographed patterns across the ice.
They create interlocking circles, overlapping spirals, flower blossoms, slow serpentines threading their way between spinning soloists and pairs. The emphasis is on partner dancing, with women deftly tossed, spun, lifted, or held by one skate and spun horizontally, the men showing little sign of the effort expended to achieve these spectacular feats over and over.
Twos interlock to become fours, and then sixes, then another six merge to create a smoothly rotating wheel. Some of the partnering is astonishing, and the prince dances with two and even three women supported on his body at once. The production is tastefully stylish, quite different from the sumptuous kitsch of the company’s Sleeping Beauty.
Costume designs by Albina Gabuyeva are modelled on those of the court of Nikolai in the early 1900s, adapted to the skaters’ needs for non-slip fabrics and optimum skirt length. The colour palette is mostly restrained - browns and beiges, whites and silvers and greys, with brighter, brasher colours reserved for the divertissements from Spain and Italy and Hungary in the ball scene, and for the prince’s mother.
The villainous Rothbart and his pawn Odette are all black and red - she even has red LEDs on her boots, and Rothbart’s henchman wear black. Ballet fans will be happy to see the hallmark moments fittingly adapted to ice dancing, with a remarkably apt Dance of the Cygnets, and the romantic pas de deux of Siegfried and Odette at the lakeside in Act 1 convincingly danced.