Sleeping Beauty on Ice at The Lowry, Salford ****

03 Jun 13 - - Dave Cunningham

Efforts to widen the attraction of an art form are not always immediately popular. Musicals, for example, tend to be regarded as the poor relation of Opera. Similarly there is a risk that ballet fans may coolly receive a version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ danced on ice. Yet the appeal of the production by The Imperial Ice Stars is so wide that only the most prejudiced of audiences could fail to find some aspect that satisfies.

The Imperial Ice Stars comprise 26 Olympic, World, European and National Championship skaters who tell the tale of how the fairy Carabosse takes umbrage at being omitted from the birthday celebrations and curses Princess Aurora to sleep until wakened by true love’s kiss.

There are limitations and strengthens to dancing on ice. The grace of ballet is lacking and there is a tendency to depend on a limited number of techniques such as ‘the figurehead’ where a female dancer is held aloft, like a ship’s mascot , by her partner as the duo circle the stage . But the athletic aspect of skating offers a level of dynamism not present in ballet with the dancers spinning dramatically around the stage and hurtling each other into the air with a speed that seems almost carefree. You can see how the production will appeal to younger audiences or indeed anyone who finds ballet rather stately and prefers an edge of drama.

Artistic Director Tony Mercer presents a startlingly varied production opening in a gothic setting with Iuliia Odintcova’s show stealing villain Carabosse and her Shadow Jurijs Salmanovs creating a powerful image of encroaching evil. Mercer lifts the mood with a gentle comedy routine in the Palace before settling down to a series of choreographed moves that really show off the skill of ice dancing. A group of Fairies, striking dressed by Natella Abdulaeva and Svetlana Murzak in colour coordinated costumes, travel the stage in a train sequence and show that ice dancing can be graceful. It is surprising just how well Tchaikovsky’s score suits the wider, more exciting interpretation offered by the Ice Stars.

Mercer does not hold back on spectacle closing Act one with Carabosse dramatically taking flight and expiring in a ring of fire in Act Two. But the effects do not stoop to the level of being gimmicks and always serve to tell the tale or enhance the show. Volodymyr Khodakivskyy and Fiona Kirk perform a lyrical aerial ballet that makes The Enchanted Forest more a state of mind than a physical location.

Dancing on ice is not a subtle form of entertainment. The speed of the dancers limits the physical movements they can use to convey plot development to bold gestures. Were it not for the athleticism of the dancers these could seem exaggerated even crude. The decision of the Imperial Ice Stars to adapt an established ballet format and classical score does more than just legitimise a new approach to dance. It creates an exhilarating entertainment that will delight new audiences and remind those who might have become jaded over the years why they were drawn to dance in the first place.

Published 4 April 2013

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Upcoming show dates

 Peter Pan on Ice