A Flawless and Fantastic Family Favourite

11 Dec 15 - STAR / PTA News - Janet Smith

**** THERE'S no skimping on even the composer's name. It's written out in full in the programme: Pyotr Iltich Tchaikovsky And why not? Swan Lake on Ice, performed by the Imperial Ice Stars, is an accomplished and elegant show that deserves its place among balletomanes who like their art light, with a twist of Russian.

Mostly comprising Russians and Ukrainians, with the odd Belarusian and even one South African -Capetonian Fiona Kirk-in the cast, the show is entirely un-African. It's as if you flew off in a cloud of snowflakes on a magic sleigh and landed among the Urals. Once there, spellbound by Tchaikovsky's eternal score, you willingly submit to the charms an ice show can bring.

And this one is rather special-although it's always advisable to take children with you to a show like this. In case you're too much of a realist around what's being conjured up in front of you, they set you right simply with their shining faces and delighted smiles.

The Imperial Ice Stars are the world's big names in this arena Although the skaters themselves are the children of Tolstoy, the company was, in fact, set up by Britons James Cundall and Tony Mercer, Mercer being one of the world's greatest ice dancing choreographers. They trade in classic tales, which are always the most adored, and this one, which reveals the centuries' old legend, is still at the top of its game.

There's a tweak to Mercer's direction here in that Odette and Odile are played by different performers. The classicists have criticised this, yet Mercer says this was Tchaikovsky's original intention and he decided to stay true to that. It works so well on this stage, especially for children who don't always understand that ultra-layer within the plot, which was to have one woman- in dance, the prima ballerina-play both roles to stir doubt in the Prince's mind.

More simply put, for what is essentially a family show in this space, there are indeed two performers. Mercer says he wanted to make the Prince responsible for his own actions in betraying Odette. And that was, of course, the ultimate betrayal. The two little girls in my company understood that completely, which was a relief as the tale is, of course, rather complicated.

The costumes are opulent, with Russian designer Albina Gabueva immersing the audience in the Romanov era, while turning the swans into flighty, gorgeous creatures of the air.

The only slight disappointment for my child companions was that there wasn't a live orchestra. They went running down to the front of the stage at interval to check.

But the sound, a recording by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, is exceptional. You don't feel isolated from it at all.

If you can only do one ice show every few years, do this one. It's fast, fiery and fantastical.

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