Back in the 1980's I harboured a small ice dancing obsession, captivated as many were by those innovators of the art, Torvill and Dean. Their combination of grace and athleticism defined ice dancing for me – an art form that could be joyful, moving, romantic and gasp-inducing spectacular all in the course of a single routine.
With their energetic and engaging performance of THE NUTCRACKER ON ICE, the 26 strong company that makes up the Imperial Ice Stars brought it all back. I thrilled at the dizzying array of leaps and turns, barely breathed through the gliding beauty of the romantic pairings, and had my heart in my throat watching the more daring numbers - never more so than during the aerial acrobatics of the Arabian Dance, a standout performance on the night.
THE NUTCRACKER is a perennial Christmas favourite, but this latest imagining by Artistic Director and Choreographer Tony Mercer is perfectly suited to mid-year Melbourne. It's cold and bare outside, and inside the State Theatre we are presented with the magic sight of snow falling, and the evocative sound of blades against the ice. It is a version of winter that makes us forgive the plummeting temperatures of this season – if only for the duration of the show.
Tchaikovsky's stunning score is both familiar and rendered new by the style of performance; ice dancers have an energy on stage that sets this form of dance apart. Spins that seem to dissolve a person, the constant motion of leaps and throws - it somehow makes the music more vibrant too. I found myself unintentionally swaying in my seat for much of the show (belated apologies to the people sitting behind me!).
Australian set designer Eamon D'Arcy has created a gorgeous fairytale of a stage for his fourth collaboration with Imperial Ice Stars, while the costumes by Elena Predvodeteleva have just enough sparkle to compete with the antics on stage.
The skaters themselves are a combination of former Olympic, World, European and National Championship competitors. They manage both formidable strength and balletic grace, and their energy never fades – right through to the exuberant curtain call that felt somewhat like that last amazing and overwhelming burst of fireworks just when you thought you'd seen the best of it. There were a couple of tumbles through-out, but they only served as a reminder of just what these ice dancers are asking their bodies to do. Near perfect was near enough for me.
As an example of the theatre on ice genre, THE NUTCRACKER ON ICE has me thinking about a wish list of all the shows I'd love to see presented in this fashion (the waltz from Carousel tops my list). It also makes me wish it snowed in Melbourne. And it certainly makes me wish I could do more than a shaky half turn when I put on a pair of ice skates.
THE IMPERIAL ICE STARS: NUTCRACKER ON ICE
25-29 JULY, ARTS CENTRE, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
2-12 AUGUST, HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE, PERTH, AUSTRALIA