The Nutcracker on Ice
Music Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, choreography Tony Mercer
The Imperial Ice Stars
This attractive reworking of ballet’s Christmastime favourite is a lavish creation for ice dance.
It is the first time since John Curry’s pioneer attempt to create ice dance with artistic appeal as, if not more, important than technical skill that I have seen skating in a theatre rather than an arena setting. Since then we have had Torvil and Dean and the recent television success of Dancing on Ice building on that beginning to change audience expectations.
Arena shows, with their vast expanse of ice, can’t easily create domesticity but on a stage it is possible to make a show that presents a believable narrative rather than just spectacular display.
This production is greatly helped by Eamon D’Arcy’s colourful sets which open with a front-cloth street scene of the Pavlov’s St Petersburg painted with three-dimensional effect as real snow falls and people pass, before the lights come up on the scene behind of indoors and the family Christmas tree, creating the feeling of a domestic interior even on this large stage.
Costuming has formal period touches that put this scene in the past but short skirts and bright colours give a more modern feel so that, even though there are no jeans or baseball caps in sight, youngsters will recognize children like themselves at the Pavlov’s family party.
At first, as skates throw up a shower as they stir up snowflakes and cut the ice, one might worry about them cutting up the carpet, but the family and guest are so sharply characterised that almost immediately skating stops seeming odd indoors. And what skating.
Volodymyr Khodakivskyy performs prodigious spins as Dr Pavlov, father of the little girl who here is called Marie instead of Clara. Guest artist Keith Chegwin appears as Herr Drosselmeyer, bringing the children presents. He may not be as graceful on the ice as his fellow cast, but, partnered by Olga Sharutenko, his television ice dance teacher earlier this year, he does some efficient lifts, goes aerial and dazzles with some outstanding magic tricks.
This version’s Nutcracker doll is no wooden toy but a life-size wind-up automaton (gymnastic Alina Zmeu). (S)he is not on skates and there is some witty choreography as Marie’s brother and the children play with him in which he never touches the ice.
When night falls, it is mice, not rats, that creep out from the skirting, a khaki uniformed army. The Nutcracker and his confrere toy soldiers only win their battle against them after the intervention of a couple of cats (Egor Chudin and Olga Sharutenko).
Anastasia Ignateyeva and Bagdan Berezenko as Marie and her Nutcracker Prince make a well-matched pair. She is charming and he is performer of great dash if not particularly charismatic—these are romantic children rather than passionate teenagers, delighting in their skill rather than expressing erotic attraction.
When the Prince takes her off to the Kingdom of Sweets, there is no extended journey; the Snowflakes dance in real snow and then we are there. They are greeted there by a sugar Plum Fairy (Yulia Ashcbheulova) and her partner (Oleg Tazetdinov) who are another pair of youngsters like themselves and, although the set does feature sweets, the variations place the emphasis on ethnic styles not candies with the Arabian divertissement an aerial episode, and the cats and mouse king and queen (Jurijs Salmanos and Iuliia Odintcova) part of the party celebrations.
Tchaikovsky’s score has been arranged for ice dance by Tim A Duncan and Peter Whitfield to emphasis its drama and match the drama of the many daring lifts and dizzying spins and is pre-recorded.
This is a Nutcracker that cracks along and gives the impression of being much more of a narrative then many ballet versions. Its displays of skating technique are exhilarating but, more importantly, it works theatrically.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton