Classic ballet hits the ice
Updated: 2015-01-27
By Zhang Kun (Shanghai Star)

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The famous ballet will be performed by professional ice-skaters to the music of Tchaikovsky. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

The Imperial Ice Stars have brought ice-skating into a new era and to a new audience. Zhang Kun reports on their production of Swan Lake coming to Shanghai Culture Square.

The most popular ballet of all time, Swan Lake, will take a new look at Shanghai Culture Square.

Five tons of icy water will be poured onto the stage to prepare the theater for the Imperial Ice Stars' performance of Swan Lake on Ice from Jan 28 to 30.

Twenty-six figure skaters with Olympic, world, European and national champion titles, who hold more than 250 competition medals between them, will present the story of Swan Lake – on ice.

The Imperial Ice Stars was founded by two live entertainment producers Tony Mercer and James Cundall, and former speed skater Vladislav Olenin in 2004. Their shows, such as Sleeping Beauty on Ice, The Nutcracker on Ice and Phantom of the Opera on Ice, have won high acclaim internationally. Some say they have done for ice-skating what Cirque du Soleil has done for circus.

Swan Lake features choreography by Mercer, who wanted to create a production faithful to what composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky set out to do when he wrote the music.

Mercer says he was inspired by his research into Tchaikovsky's original score and intentions for the story: "I wanted to create a more realistic interpretation of this much-loved tale and transpose it onto the ice, creating a new art form in the process – ice dance in a full theatrical setting. I always felt it was a natural fit, to have swans gliding on ice."

The Imperial Ice Stars' production of Swan Lake toured 22 countries from 2010-2012. "I created our original Swan Lake on Ice four years ago in a classical style with elements of contemporary ice dance. With this production I've significantly re-worked the choreography to incorporate even more contemporary skating maneuvers, and challenged our skaters to reach for new heights."

The set design was done by Eamon D'Arcy, one of Australia's leading scenic designers and Production Designer for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

There's a 'clash' of cultures in that the soft pointe of the ballet shoe meets the hard steel of the skate, D'Arcy says. "The landscape might be fantasy and illusion but the 'ground' is an ice rink, with all the technical planning needed to manage the realities of high speed ice skating."

This has brought challenges for the set design because the performance is not static but constantly moving at great speed. "There is a certain danger to this project, and the design has to adapt to the rigors of ice skating, yet be concerned with the safety of the performers."

Ice skating blades can cause damage to long costumes, which is of particular concern for the female skaters with flowing dresses, says Albina Gabueva.

Gabueva is a veteran costume designer with Moscow's Stanislavsky Theatre. She agreed to design for Swan Lake on Ice only because Mercer wanted the story to take place in St. Petersburg, in the Romanov period of Russia. That was the end of the Imperial era of Russian history, and the period in which Tchaikovsky composed the music.

"I want to create costumes that have movement but I have to be careful that they're not too flowing and liable to get tangled or trip someone up," Gabueva says. "Also the choice of fabric is extremely important because of the lifts undertaken by the performers and the speed at which they lift and move. Special non-slip fabrics were used as a result, where hold and grip are of importance."

If you go

7:15 pm, Shanghai Culture Square, 597 Fuxing Road Middle, Xuhui district, 021-6472-6000

80-680 yuan

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