Imperial Ice Stars
Nutcracker on Ice
Hong Kong, Academy for Performing Arts, Lyric Theatre
6 November 2012
A version of this review previously appeared in the South China Morning Post
Christmas came early when the Imperial Ice Stars made a welcome return to Hong Kong with Nutcracker on Ice in November. While this may not be a Nutcracker for those looking for subtlety or sophistication, it’s a fun show designed to thrill adults as well as children.
Director/Choreographer Tony Mercer has taken a classic traditional approach to the story. At her parents’ Christmas party young Maria is given a nutcracker doll by the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer. That night she dreams that the doll turns into a handsome prince with whom she defeats the wicked Mouse King’s army and travels to the Land of Sweets where the Sugarplum Fairy welcomes them.
There are some nicely innovative touches in Act 1. Casting a live performer as the nutcracker doll works brilliantly thanks to the amazing plasticity of former international gymnastics champion Marina Davydova and the protean partnering of company veteran Vadim Yarkov, who makes not only the diminutive Davydova but every other woman he lifts look light as a doll. I also enjoyed the army of mice in khaki uniforms (with pink puttees and gloves to represent pink paws) and having Maria defeat them by releasing two cats is well imagined. In addition to the usual objectionable naughty brother, there is a bashful boy (charmingly performed by Bogdan Berezenko) with a crush on Maria who later turns up as the Prince. Indeed, Mercer turns the limited number of performers (less than 30 in all) to good advantage by having the real characters from Maria’s life re-appear in different guises in her dream.
The high point of Act 2 (in every sense) is a breathtaking aerial routine to the Arabian Dance (or “Coffee”) which matches the languorous, gliding music perfectly. It is performed magnificently by the fearless Fiona Kirk and Volodymyr Khodakhivskyy, who also excel as Maria’s parents. The rest of the divertissements are less exceptional in terms of skating, although the proceedings are livened up by some impressive juggling with fire.
On the downside, Act 2 was marred by costumes from Elena Predvodeteleva ranging from hideously garish to downright weird (it may be the Waltz of the Flowers, but why turn the performers into giant tulips?). A real headscratcher, as the same designer’s 1910ish costumes for Act 1 were perfectly tasteful, with some deliciously elegant Worth-style evening gowns.
There are inevitable restrictions to skating on a proscenium stage as opposed to a large ice rink, with jumps and thrown jumps of necessity limited in number and scope. Mercer and his cast make up for this with an extraordinarily inventive catalogue of spins, gravity-defying balances and especially lifts. One of the most jaw-dropping moments has the woman balanced face-down on her stomach on top of her partner’s head, arms and legs outstretched with nothing to hold on to while he spins.
The best is saved till the very last, when all the skaters get to show off their best moves in the troupe’s traditional exhilarating finale which brought the usually reticent Hong Kong audience to its feet and sent them home happy.
British audiences will have a chance to see the company’s brand of ballet on ice in 2013, when they will do an extended UK tour with The Sleeping Beauty from March to November.