Brilliant skating, but Nutcracker on thin ice

The Nutcracker On Ice,

The Playhouse

A SELECT few souls were at the Playhouse last night for the extravaganza which is the Wild Rose Ice Theatre’s version of the Nutcracker.

Not that the Russian ice stars altered their acts one jot. True professionals, they put in such a level of commitment that when the lights went down, you wouldn't have known that the house was not full to the rafters with adoring fans.

Here, live on stage, was a show of committed and not inconsiderable skill - at least in terms of figure ice skating. With a dazzling array of jumps, spins, flying spins and lifts , there was enough to satisfy those who were there for the skating alone.

In fact, given the limited size of the rink which can be created on the Playhouse stage, the skaters were doubly skilful to get all their moves in without crashing off the rink and into the wings.

But anyone expecting a lucid telling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet was not going to come away satisfied. Skating is simply not an articulate enough medium to convey the story of the Nutcracker. Even with Stephen Lee Garden, winner of the last ever New Faces, narrating as Tchaikovsky himself.

In fact, the whole of the first half of this production was a two-star yawn, relieved only by the titters to be had at the expense of Garden, whose cod Russian accent was almost as excruciating as the lines he had to deliver and his condescending manner as if he were your snooty uncle letting you in on a big secret.

So the story of Marie, given a magical nutcracker doll by her dotty and mysterious godfather Drosselmayer at her parents big Christmas party in St. Petersburg, 1892, was told.

Fritz, her naughty brother, broke the doll. After the party, some mice came skittering round and the toy soldiers fought and shot the King Rat.

To be fair, there was the odd moment of individual excellence, in which a jot of character was added over and above that told in the narration. Rouslan Novotseltsev was decidedly naughty as Fritz and Stanislav Voituk created a wonderfully tumbling drunken fall as the children’s father.

Otherwise, it was only the set pieces such as Ioulia Barsoukova’s double-jointed contortions as the Nutcracker doll, or the arrival on stage of the lycra-clad mice, which drew attention away from such travesties of direction as the belief that throwing loose ice into the audience and looking smug could make Drosselmayer mysterious.

The real problem is that while dancing on dry land has a whole range of movements and actions to articulate and reflect what is being created in the music, all that skating can do is use the music as a metronome with which to keep time. All the brooding darkness of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music was lost.

Much better fare was offered up in the second half, however. This is the point in the ballet when Tchaikovsky goes off on one and the Sugar Plum Fairy rewards Marie and her transformed prince with a series of big divertissements.

This was much more like the spectacle on ice that the whole show should have been. Here was aerial work from Maria with one snowflake slung beneath her trapeze and a bevy of others all swirling round in the darkness, illuminated only by glowing ultra-violet light. And here was Ioulia Barsoukova, again, as a ravishing Egyptian princess.

It is these spectacular set-pieces, which bode rather better for the company’s other show opening tonight, that features the hits from their previous narrative shows.

Run ended. Sensational Ice continues until Saturday.

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