Interview: Skate Expectations

28 Oct 10 - South Wales Echo, UK - Dave Owens

Swan Lake on Ice is one of the more spectacular productions to be staged at the Wales Millennium Centre.

Dave Owens speaks to two of the show's stars and finds a very British influence at its heart.

I can hear the whoosh of skates on ice before I even enter the auditorium. As I'm led through into the Donald Gordon Theatre I'm met with the sight of the Wales Millennium Centre's main arena transformed into a stunning winter palace, the scene dominated by the stage which has been replaced by a giant ice rink. Skaters front the Imperial Ice Stars company are being put through their paces in readiness for the launch night of Swan Lake on Ice which runs for two weeks at the Cardiff arts powerhouse.

And it's quite a sight. Around 20 of die skaters are speeding around the ice at a pace that makes your head spin, while you can only marvel at how they manage to stop themselves flying off the rink's edge which is perilously close to the front row. It's both a thrilling and a chilly scene. Note if you have got a ticket for the front row I'd take a hat, gloves and scarf with you, the rink ice reaches a fr-fr-fr-freezing minus 15 degrees!

Fittingly, principal skaters Olga Sharutenko and Andrei Pekin are kitted out in winter woollies as they take a seat to talk about their leading roles in the production. The pair take on the roles of Odette and Prince Siegfried in the dynamic new interpretation of their award winning masterpiece which tours the world as part of a two-year, 22-country tour.

Both skaters have been with the company for seven years and both started out on the ice at a very young age."I started skating at six, and never stopped," smiles Olga."I skated for Russia as part on an ice dancing couple and skated at many international and world championships. Now here in a theatre show I cart show the best skills of skating coupled with a theatrical performance." "My mum put me on skates when I was three," laughs Andrei, with a smirk at outdoing his co-star."I've now skated for 30 years and I've worked with Tony our artistic director for die last 11 years."

The cast consists exclusively of former professional skaters. After watching them amaze with some breathtaking moves that will bedazzle the crowds in Cardiff during the run, it's undeniable that their technical expertise is phenomenal. However, as both Olga and Andrei admit, it's the artistic merits of the production which shouldn't t be underestimated.

"It's great that it gives us as figure skaters a chance to express ourselves better than we can do in competitions," says Olga. "It's fantastic to entertain die audience, not as a sporting event but as art artistic theatrical production. It's so enjoyable to watch and that's why I think audiences love these productions so much and keep coming back time after time."

"That's what I love as well," agrees Andrei."The chance to tell the story told by skaters just by movement and by the elements they do. All the difficult elements are still there, but here we are free to create anything we wish and as skaters we feel much more creative in a production like this than we ever did in competitions."

Swan Lake on Ice was created four years ago in a classical style with elements of contemporary ice dance. With this production the company has significantly re-worked the choreography to incorporate even more contemporary skating manoeuvres, and challenged the skaters to reach for new heights once again.

As stars of a production that majors as much of the artistic emotion of the story as it does on the skaters' supreme skills, it's no surprise to discover that both Olga and Andrei were inspired by British skating legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

"One of the most important things for us all was that Torvill and Dean were the creators of the new figure skating era which started with the Bolero, admits Olga."It was a new type of figure skating dance. It was theatre and it was dance. It was the first time that a couple started to show something inside," adds Andrei. "Everyone knew then that it presented new possibilities in ice dancing. Torvill and Dean were pioneers for us all. And this show is similar with its ideas and their tradition. What they started we continue."

Olga is herself no stranger to Torvill and Dean. She worked with he pair on the first series of ITV1's celebrity ice skating programme Dancing On Ice, partnering everyone's favourite singing sci-fi star John Barrowman.

"To meet and dance with both of them (Torvill and Dean) was amazing," she says. And I loved being partnered with John "We got halfway through the competition together. He was great, considering how difficult it is to find yourself on ice for the first time when you are an adult and try to balance yourself on the ice. But he definitely had the talent.

"He also had that natural movement inside his body. He was able to move, he was able to dance and he was able to learn so many things that you didn't see us do in the show. I had a great time with him. I haven't seen him for a while. Sadly the last time I was in Cardiff performing here (at the WMC) he was doing panto and we were doing shows at the same time so I wasn't able to see him and he wasn't able to see me, but I hope to catch up soon.

Andrei himself admits he would love to perform as one of the professional skaters on Dancing On Ice. "I would love to do it but we've always been on tour when it's being filmed," he says, picking up an imaginary phone with his fingers before adding: "But if Torvill and Dean are reading this please call me, call me!"

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