Swan Lake on Ice is a cool treat

Lavish costumes, world class skaters and Tchaikovsky's scrumptious score makes Imperial Ice Stars' latest production of Swan Lake a treat — and makes the hours of work to freeze over the Theatre Royal stage worthwhile. SIMON PARKIN reports.

The Theatre Royal has been many things to many people over the years. But this week there was something of a chill in the air as the venue is once again transformed into an ice rink to welcome an elaborate production.

The new interpretation of Swan Lake on Ice, complete with fresh choreography full of daring and graceful feats, arrives on Tuesday for a string of shows that conclude on April 30.

But before the host of world class performers had unpacked their tutus, a huge operation swung into action as the venue saw its stage swallowed up by tonnes of ice.

The production features 26 world, European and national championship skaters who between them hold more than 250 medals. They form theatrical skating company The Imperial Ice Stars and have come to the town as part of a two-year, 22 country world tour with the re-imagined version of the classic ballet.

But it is as much a logistical extravaganza as a theatrical one.

Most of the daring moves in the show would be performed in an arena measuring around 60m by 60m, but the stage in the theatre is just 15m by 15m.

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Artistic director Tony Mercer said he was often asked whether the rink is real ice. He explains: 'There are ap-proximately 14 tonnes of ice on the stage and hidden beneath the surface more than 10 miles of piping and a few buckets of sweat, all at a working temperature of -15C.

'A strict timetable needs to be followed in order for the ice rink to be ready in time for rehearsal skating at 5pm on our Tuesday opening night.

'Work starts every Monday at 7am when our technicians arrive at the venue and start unloading our two 45ft trucks with the help of 18 theatre technicians. The trucks carry not only the ice rink, but also the costumes, set, sound and lighting equipment for the show.

'The work on piecing the rink together starts with the base and sides of the rink, which is made of marine reinforced plywoods and waterproof timber for the edging. We now have what looks like a giant baking tray into which we will lay our pastry, only our pastry is 52ft by 52ft of heavy duty pool liner.

'The most awkward bit begins as the pipes are now laid inside the tray and connected to the header pipes spaced out across the base of the tray. The spacing is incredibly important and must be exact. If not, sections of the rink will not freeze and we could have some very unhappy and angry Russian skaters.'

But while the task of bringing ice to the Theatre Royal stage is a tricky one, Mr Mercer never loses sight of the quality of the show itself.

He adds: 'Inspired by my research into Tchaikovsky's original intentions for the story, I wanted to create a more realistic interpretation and transpose it onto ice, creating a new art form — ice dance in a full theatrical setting. I felt it was a natural fit to have swans gliding on ice.

'I created our original Swan Lake on Ice four years ago in a classical style with elements of contemporary ice dance. I've significantly re-worked the choreography and challenged our skaters to reach for new heights again.'

The dazzling costumes, which total some 110, were designed by Albina Gabueva of Moscow's Stanislavsky Theatre and created by the Bolshoi Ballet's costume cutters.

Some of the ice dancers have been skating from as young as three.

The skaters rehearsed nine hours a day, six days a week, for seven weeks to pull the show together. They then rehearse for three hours each day before the show.

Mr Mercer added: 'After everything is connected on the stage, we then connect the header pipes to our chiller units outside and start to fill the system with a mixture of glycol [antifreeze] and water. Overnight and throughout Tuesday, the rink is sprayed every 15 minutes until it is around three inches thick.

'Once the rink is completed, the surface temperature is constantly monitored. In addition, during the interval and after each performance, the surface is scraped and resurfaced with hot water to keep it as smooth as possible.'

n Swan Lake on Ice is at Norwich Theatre Royal from April 26-30, �29.50-�6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk



44 — The number of people on the tour including performers, technicians and a doctor, with a further 17 people required in each venue.

140 — Man-hours are need to build the ice rink, but it takes only 30 man-hours to dismantle.

25 — Pairs of skates and 50 sets of blades are carried with the troupe on tour.

14 — Tonnes of ice are created in the production – the same weight as nearly three elephants.

2,500 — Litres of anti-freeze are used – enough to fill 100 car cooling systems.

110 — Costumes are used in the production.

250 — The number of competition medals the performers have won between them.

6 — The number of working couples on the tour.