Lightning flashes sporadically across the black stage, and the base of thunder reverberates through the Artscape Opera House as the opening scene of The Sleeping Beauty unfolds. Carabosse, as performed so convincingly by Jurijs Salmanovs, blends his potions and poisons in his home. His character oozes a sinister energy which teases the audience of the thrilling plot that is yet to come.
The malevolent images of the prologue are virtually forgotten as the stage transforms from the gloom of the Dark Forest to the bright and utterly rich set design of the Royal Palace. Occurring in merely a few seconds – an astounding transformation to witness – we are transported into the heart of 19th and early 20th century vigour where glorious costumes of opulent colours flow gracefully from the backs of the gliding skaters as they celebrate the birth of Princess Aurora.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, Sleeping Beauty on Ice is a world-class production which features a cast of Olympic, World, European and National Championship skaters. Artistic Director Tony Mercer is the genius behind the magic, and a longstanding pioneer of merging romantic ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker with the acrobatics of outstanding figure skating.
Though he is widely considered the world’s trailblazer in theatre on ice, it is impossible to credit Tony Mercer alone. The champion skaters of the cast, previously accustomed to the strict rule book of the sport during their competitive years, have successfully moulded themselves into performers who can emotionally depict a story through theatrical ice dance. And their talents don’t start and end at figure skating. The audience is treated to spectacular fire dancing – creating blazing orange patterns – and beautifully synchronised choreography which hints at the original ballet of The Sleeping Beauty.
Thrown into the production as well are breathtaking aerial lifts which send cast members soaring high above the stage in dramatic confrontation scenes between the characters. Carabosse and his group of evil minions perform audacious gymnastic feats as they are held up by cables and sheets, bringing an element of circus acts and acrobatics into the concoction of this wonderful play. Coupled with daring lifts, high-speed spins and death spirals from the art of figure skating, the result is wide eyes and audible gasps of shock and delight throughout the crowd.
Aspects of the plot of The Sleeping Beauty are altered in an effort to modernise the work. In the original story, Carabosse is not invited to celebrate the birth of Princess Aurora, and gains revenge by putting a curse on the Princess that on her 18th birthday, she will prick her finger and die. Yet for the Imperial Ice Stars’ production, Carabosse deviously slips Aurora a poisoned drink. To save her, her sisters and Prince Desire must invade the evil-doer’s home and retrieve the antidote of the otherwise fatal serum.
Among the sisters, Princess Lilac, as performed by Olga Sharutenko, is an absolute dream to witness. Her elegance on the ice is unparalleled, and I was particularly captivated by the scene in which her ice skates are traded for ballet shoes. Set against the backdrop of the enchanted forest and low lighting on the stage, it is utter magic as she glides in Bourree en Pointe across the ice. And it’s true that although a new interpretation was implemented into the original plot, the elements of romance and fairy tales are still very much present and emphasised.
A timeless love story that has not merely survived but flourished for more than 100 years, The Sleeping Beauty is as enthralling a play as it has ever been. And on ice, every movement is multiplied in grace, poise and fluidity. The Imperial Ice Stars are renowned for their ability to wow audiences across the globe in their portrayal of classic pieces, and Sleeping Beauty on Ice is no exception in its standard of brilliance.
The Sleeping Beauty on Ice runs at the Artscape Opera House 16 January to 9 February.