Memorable slice of magic on ice

13 Oct 08 - West Australian - Naomi Millet

More temperamental than the touchiest artiste, the Imperial Ice Star's ice-making equipment has failed several times during this World tour - the latest being the cancellation of Friday night's opening show in Perth.

But by the Saturday matinee performance the ice was solid and a packed audience was buzzing with anticipation.

Perusing the pricey embossed program, it became evident that this was not going to be a traditional telling of the famous fairytale. Instead, on a stage with some of the most expensive and lavish sets devised, choreographer Tony Mercer, his creative team and the 25 Russian ice stars (all Olympic medal-winning athletes) transport Cinderella into a new realm, with a sophisiticated variation on the well-worn theme.

Tim Duncan's original classical-romantic orchestral score is ideal for contemporary expectations while not offending more conservative ears. The soul-stirring music allows for the introduction of abstract elements examining the concept of the passage of time and, within the familiar plot framework, many details are changed.

Rivalry between Cinders and her stepsisters, for example, is shifted from the domestic to the professional, with the trio - all dancers in a local company - jostling for position of prima ballerina and the attentions, not of a prince but of the lord mayor's handsome son.

The ballet advances seamlessly in scenes played out on intricately detailed, three-dimensional sets (a lifelike village, complete with central fountain; a "backstage" setting of the Palace Theatre) that descend in seconds. Albina Gabueva's exquisite costumes, made of special non-slip, materials, are elaborate marvels that took more than a year to sew.

Over the 2.5 hour extravaganza we are also treated to state-of-the-art-projections, complex aerial manoeuvres by an Olympic gymnast, acrobatics, circus stunts and amazing special effects.

Act One is a platform for stunning solos and duets from Cinderella (Olga Sharutenko) and her beau, the physical dynamo Andrei Penkine, and some ingeniously choreographed slapstick from the ugly sisters, their domineering, scarlet-silk clad, cigarette-puffing mother and indulgent stepfather, the watchmaker.

Despite the cast's clear mime and honed acting skills, it soon became clear that much of the action (especially the non-narrative segments involving marching, gold body-suited figures as dancing clock hands and numbers), while spellbinding for adults and older children, was lost on the smaller kids.

There was low-level restlessness in the ranks from this point on. Unlike the vine company's previous production of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella does not feature a spoken narration to ensure everyone keeps up With the plot. Perhaps it should have.

As the cast warms up, more daredevil lilts, throws and leaps are incorporated, the performers displaying breathtaking athleticism and strength - as well as stamina. Yet each also brings significant artistry, grace and freshness to their characters.

In Act Two, the Masked Ball, the skaters synchronise in stylish ensemble dances that belie the real dangers of closely interweaving blades. Blending the expected with the surprising, the old with the new, the stellar imperial cast make this Cinderella a magical, unforgettable experience on the cutting-edge of modern theatre.

Given the difficulties of coming up with stories suited to the esoteric skating art form, it is perhaps understandable that Mercer is appealing to the public to come up with ideas for new ice shows.

What can we expect next? A creative take on current world events such as Global Warming on Ice?

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Upcoming show dates

 Peter Pan on Ice