South African audiences are the first to see this re-staging of the Imperial Ice Stars' Cinderella on Ice. As is now the expected standard of this troupe of international ice stars, their performances leave audiences with goose bumps – and not because of the ice’s chill factor. They glide over the ice with exquisite theatricality! Because of their jaw-dropping manoeuvres and undeniable talent, the Artscape Opera House is the coolest place to be until 28 January 2018.
This Cinderella story – developed and choreographed by Tony Mercer – is not the typical one that comes to mind when that fairy-tale is mentioned. As Olga Sharutenko flawlessly takes to the ice, she enchantingly introduces her Cinderella, not as a girl covered in cinders, but as one with dreams of becoming a ballerina. This in one-way feeds into the ballet-on-ice association audiences have with the Imperial Ice Stars, while also emphasising a shift in this company’s story-telling approach. With this show, Mercer has focussed more on what is technically a better fit to display the allure of ice-skating, rather than merely trying to translate the associated ballet to the rink.
In this retelling of the tale of a girl with dreams, but also with untalented stepsisters (Alma Soprykina and Elena Shurkova) and an overly ambitious stepmother (Maria Mukhortova) without heart, the Fairy Godmother steps onto the scene as the encouraging Gypsy Fortune Teller (Fiona Kirk), the Father (Sergei Lisev) remains very much alive and supportive, and the prince is replaced with the Lord Mayor’s son (Bogdan Berezenko). Though this twist still has all the associated themes of love, loss and the expected good versus evil (with the evil manifesting as ugliness through bullying rather than ugliness through looks), the theme that echoes and builds most towards a climactic revelation is that of time.
Time (and the importance thereof) is constantly highlighted, from the introduction of a watchmaker to the coordinated ticking of the village square’s clocks. This all subtly sets the scene for the ultimate and dramatic personification of Time when Cinderella’s time at the theatre ball runs out and leaves the Lord Mayor’s son seeking for his lost love.
So set, the tale unfolds in a Siberian town square (Act 1) and a black and silver art deco theatre (Act 2). These are maybe not the most exciting Imperial Ice Stars backdrops we have seen to date, but the simplicity thereof allows for the showcasing of perfect technique and brilliant performances. These performances are then complimented by other impressive effects, ranging from fire and rain to a beautifully lit carriage, and even some flying too. Arguably, a quick-change for Cinderella (from day-wear to gown) may have added to the grandeur of that quintessential transformation moment, but one must accept that at times practicality trumps whimsy for the greater artistic vision of a show.
With this being a Cinderella staging that emphasises time more than magic and adds a ballet driven Centre Stage feel to the tale, a few things may be difficult to place, as audiences go into the show without having (and perhaps expecting) their ‘normal’ fairy-tale frame of reference. Yet the enchantment of the fantastic routines mitigate that you may not be able to place all the characters or at times find yourself wondering why the leading man is doing Irish ice-river-dance in Siberia.
Yes, it may not have the nostalgia of a Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky scored ballet, but then Mercer never intended to translate that feeling to the ice. His intention was clear from the start: incorporate an element of theatre into the charm of ice-skating by restaging a classic using its essence as the building blocks for something different and new. And why not? If author Charles Perrault’s Cinderella could be tweaked by the Brothers Grimm (who gave his already dark tale a bit of a more gruesome twist), why can Mercer not take that same story and redesign it for the ice-inspired entertainment needs of a modern audience?
Cinderella on Ice does not pander to the traditional bibbidi-bobbodi-boo of the mainstream fairy-tale, it has a different type of magical charm. It is a magic that is most noticeable when one walks out and sees adults grinning from ear-to-ear and little kids twirling around with pure glee. The main purpose of a show of this nature is to astound and amaze audiences with the immense talent on display, and it does just that!
Cinderella on Ice is a delightful visit to the theatre for young and old. Book your tickets through Computicket before run ends, 28 January 2018.