Cinderella on Ice - Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff ****

07 Jan 09 - The Times - Donald Hutera

Hats off to Tony Mercer, the artistic director of the Imperial Ice Stars, for attempting something others can't, or won't, do.

His desire is to place high-quality ice dancing at the service of familiar yet emotionally satisfying full-length narratives. The combination worked well in his young company's smashing 2004 debut production, Sleeping Beauty on Ice. Two years on, the dramatic stakes rose considerably higher via his surprisingly meaningful take on Swan Lake.

Now comes Cinderella on Ice, in a staging that tours the UK until mid-June and is, perhaps, more notable for its choreographic invention, conceptual ambition and stylish look than its fairytale uplift.


Mercer's novel choices start with the show's setting in a small Siberian town, its central square realised in charming detail by the designer Eamon D'Arcy. Cinderella (Olga Sharutenko, an effortlessly strong and lyrical skater) is no sooty urchin, but rather the lovely offspring of a dutiful watchmaker (Vadim Yarkov, authoritative). Harassing both is his elegant dragon of a second wife (Olena Pyatash), assisted by her ridiculously temperamental daughters (Svetlana Fadeeva and Alina Kharetdinova).

The introduction of these and other characters, including Andrei Penkine as the mayor's son in lieu of a prince, is accomplished with a commendably light touch. Credit for this must be shared between Mercer and two dozen, mainly Russian-born, championship skaters whose dazzling abilities are harnessed to a plot that, in truth, sometimes operates with less urgency than it might.

There is a self-referential wit in Mercer's decision to render the stepmum as the ballet mistress of the local theatre, and Cinderella as a diligent chorine who steps into the role of Odette when her feckless stepsister is injured. Clever, too, to make dad a time-keeper flummoxed by the crazy spinning of all the hands on the town's many clocks. Other choices - the Fairy Godmother recast as a bland gypsy fortune-teller, or an ensemble of uniformed skaters who abstractly embody clock numbers - are divertingly different without lending the story a clear thematic weight.

Set to a streamlined, waltz-laden pre-recorded score by Tim A. Duncan and Edward Barnwell, this is still a show worth seeing for the thrilling athletic grace the cast brings to Mercer's sophisticated choreography. A show-off finale that drew the Welsh audience to its feet topped an enjoyably schmaltzy ending, complete with a deft aerial duet.

Edinburgh Playhouse Jan 20-24, then touring.

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