Swan Lake on Ice at the Royal Albert Hall

18 May 12 - - Becky Brewis

Swan Lake is a ballet about dance. Dance is how its characters – not just the performers who play them – communicate with each other: it is how the the beautiful Swan-Maiden Odette wins Prince Siegfried's heart, and it is how Odile, daughter of the evil Count Von Rothbart, seduces him.

Director Tony Mercer has gently re-worked Tchaikovsky's original plot so that this theme is brought to the fore. Using dance, the traditional language of courtship, the women play out their feelings and prove their grace, fidelity and passion.

It is a treat to see this favourite ballet – full of scope for interpretation – brought to life by The Imperial Ice Stars, an innovative and internationally-recognised company that makes use of dance, figure-skating and aerial gymnastics, all with a spirited theatricality and extravagant period costumes. The athletic holds, flips and spins are gaspingly impressive throughout – the choreography doesn't tire, and the interaction between dancers and music is effective, so that at times it is as though the skaters' motion is describing the orchestral score.

In fact, I was surprised by how expressive the ice-skating is. And it's not all gracious gliding either (although the synchronised swan entourage is lovely) – there is as also a lot of energetic scraping and clattering, as the performers carve up the stage, halting abruptly a fraction of a millimetre short of its edge. The baddies even kick the ice off their heels into the audience. It's good to be reminding that ice is a cold, hard and dangerous medium, and that these are sophisticated performers at work, not toys whirling round a period doll's house.

There are times when the pageantry of the show feels a bit gaudy – for instance when a ring of fire is lit on the ice – but this is outweighed by the quality of the performances. That said, I imagine opinion will be split over the digital scene-setting: flat, animated images on a screen the length of the stage transport us from court to forest with minimal fuss, and it gets a bit Disney-ish at times, with spry deer in a woodland glade and too-neat flocks of birds. I was won over, though, and the kids in the audience were obviously loving it – ultimately, it all added to the spectacle of an excellent show.

The Imperial Ice Stars' Swan Lake on Ice is currently touring.

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