Review: ‘Swan Lake on Ice’

This ice version of Tchaikovsky's classic ballet is anything but frigid. On a high-energy night in a grand theater with a vast stage, "Swan Lake on Ice" is a stunning entertainment that combines spectacle, ballet and adrenaline-infused gymnastics from 25 of the world's best skaters, billed as the Imperial Ice Stars.

This ice version of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet is anything but frigid. On a high-energy night in a grand theater with a vast stage, “Swan Lake on Ice” is a stunning entertainment that combines spectacle, ballet and adrenaline-infused gymnastics from 25 of the world’s best skaters, billed as the Imperial Ice Stars. The second production (following “Sleeping Beauty on Ice”) from Tony Mercer’s Russia-based company, “Swan Lake” began its world tour June 7 in Sydney, taking in Australia and New Zealand before shuttering Sept. 17 in Canberra to start its U.K. leg in October.

Quest-for-love story proves to be rich material for ice choreography. Numerous heart-in-your-mouth moments are interspersed with theatrical trickery such as brisk swordplay, stunning wirework, a ring of fire on the ice and a pair of black crows traversing the ice on stilts.

The ensemble gathered at the palace in their finery swirls around the ice in mesmerizing harmony, while in darker moments the cut and thrust of fast, aggressive skating evokes an array of turbulent emotions.

Story has been reworked to capitalize on the performers’ considerable skills; this is definitely not a by-the-numbers classic production.

The stage is always busy with dazzling tricks performed to Tchaikovsky’s rich score. Only when hints of retro-poppy choreography sneak in do you wish they’d dial it back a little. While it’s clearly easier for skaters to remain on the move, some occasional stillness would be welcome.

Despite five demanding perfs over a weekend at the end of a 15-week tour, the injury-riddled company turned in a strong display in Canberra Sept. 16.

The small stage, however, resulted in a pared-back set and slower, less dazzling moves as the skaters couldn’t reach speeds achieved on bigger stages in Sydney and elsewhere.

On opening night in Sydney three months earlier, the performers were primed and flawless on the ice, especially the scene-stealing, full-throttle work by Andrei Penkine as Benno and Artem Ievdokimov and Anton Klykov as Rothbart.

Classic ballet costumes have been smartly adapted for an ice show, and the traditional-style set is charming, but the production is distinguished primarily by the strength and skill of its cast.

Performed by Manchester Light Symphony Orchestra, the score was pre-recorded and, well, light. But hey, you can’t have everything.

Swan Lake on Ice

Canberra Theater; 1,146 seats; A$85 ($64) top

Production

A Lunchbox Theatrical Prods., Tony Mercer, Vladislav Olenin, David Atkins Enterprises presentation, in association with Jon Nicholls, of a ballet in two acts by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. Directed by Tony Mercer. Choreography, Mercer, Vladimir Uliyanov.

Creative

Set, Eamon D'Arcy; costumes, Albina Georgievna Gabueva; lighting, Gavan Swift; original music, Tim A. Duncan. Opened June 7, 2006. Reviewed June 7 and Sept. 16. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast

With: Imperial Ice Stars.

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