Review: Swan Lake on Ice


Swan Lake on IceSouth African audiences are in for a treat. After a two-year hiatus, the Imperial Ice Stars have returned to South Africa to present Swan Lake on Ice. In case you haven’t heard of the Ice Stars, they’re a group of world-class skaters who adapt much-loved ballets for a portable ice rink that fits on a theatre stage. For the last decade they have been performing internationally to great acclaim.

The festive season is perhaps the most special time to go to the theatre and Swan Lake on Ice is certainly an exhilarating, crowd-pleasing, family-friendly event. Pre-show, there are likely to be excited young girls in their best tutus clamouring for sparkly T-shirts at the concession stand, but this show is definitely not just for little girls. It’s got sugar and spice and all things nice, but also elemental fire and ice, aerial flights of fancy and a brooding Von Rothbart to balance things out and expand the appeal to a far broader audience.

Swan Lake is perhaps the quintessential ballet classic, set to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. Even if you think you don’t know Tchaikovsky, you won’t fail to recognise the opening strains of “Dance of the Little Swans”.

The Imperial Ice stars have taken this immortal ballet and zhuzhed it up. It’s faster, more exciting, more spectacular. Traditionally, it has a tragic Romeo and Juliet style ending, but the Ice Stars provide family entertainment, so a happy ending is guaranteed. It’s helpful to know the basic plot before you go, particularly if you’re taking young children.

Ballet aficionados will soon realise that by translating Swan Lake from the ballet stage to the ice rink spectacular, you lose the nuance, emotion and poise of the classical art form. In exchange though, you have an adrenaline-fuelled performance bursting with the thrill and sparkle provided by a cast of champion skaters.

There is certainly just as much skill and discipline involved in ice skating as there is in ballet. The principal skaters in particular were flawless and it’s clear that the eight weeks of performances in Joburg and Cape Town require phenomenal stamina from the entire cast and crew. There must be unparalleled talent involved in containing the energy and momentum of up to 25 skaters with dramatic lifts and synchronised spinning within the confines of a theatre stage, without loss of life or limb from 50 whizzing blades. Night after night, this production is a staggering achievement.

It’s the perfect show to inspire young children with aspirations to skate. However, it should be noted that most of the cast were triple lutzing before they reached double digits, so budding Ice Stars had better get their skates on and start practising!

As the performance goes on, the spinning gets faster and the lifts more daring, with men lifting two women, men lifting men, and even women lifting men. The show culminates with the entire cast whirling, half of them up in the air in an array of lifts. It’s show-stopping stuff.

Overall, Swan Lake on Ice is a Christmas-cracker of a performance with beautiful glittery costumes, evil enchantment, true love and snow. Yes, snow in the South African summer. So book for an afternoon of edge-of-your-seat winter-wonderland delight. You won’t be disappointed.

Nicola Beach

Swan Lake on Ice is showing at the Artscape Opera House from 14 to 31 January 2016. No under 5s.


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