Dance: No wonder they call it figure skating

Package tours to Alaska may be the coming thing, but that's not what 280 million people around the world understand as a Holiday on Ice. This spangly phenomenon is not only the best-attended live spectacular of all time, but also, according to The Guinness Book of Records, the most popular (subtle difference) and the costliest to produce. The last you don't doubt. As well as the hardware required to turn Wembley Arena into a frozen pond, the pounds 2m spent on the current show has had to stretch to denuding several sequin factories and half the world's herds of ostrich.

This particular Holiday has reason to push the boat out: it's 50 years since one Professor Perkins developed the technology that made possible the portable ice-floor, and 50 years since Holiday on Ice first glided on to one. Historical perspective provides this show's rather shaky theme, each dance number representing one of the "big events" of the past 50 years. Thus "Liberation 1945", an opportunity for a spot of jitterbugging, is followed by a skit featuring Prof Perkins developing his ice-machine, helped by some fluffy polar bears. There's a sequence about Las Vegas in which a giant roulette wheel sprawling with sequinned lovelies is trundled onto the ice, followed by "The Moon Landing", with Neil Armstrong besieged by yet more sequinned lovelies in Darth Vader helmets. But "The Fall of the Berlin Wall", promised by the programme, somehow happened without my noticing.

The entire exercise in vulgarity has an oddly old-fashioned feel, falling back on the kind of sexual typecasting that makes The Black & White Minstrel Show look like an Equity debate on gender policy. With their tease-me feathers, false lashes and cheesy grins, the girls are straight out of the Danny La Rue charm school. Holiday dress means lots up top - giant headdresses of fluorescent lions' manes, peacock plumes and bowls of tropical fruit - and not much down below. There are no breasts showing - even the raciest costumes have flesh-coloured stockinet up to the neck - but there's a strong suggestion of bare bottom, give or take a whisper of American Tan and a bit of fringing. They don't call it figure skating for nothing.

So what's the attraction of ice? Given the palaver of creating and maintaining the dance-surface, it would be simpler to perform this sort of thing on a solid stage. What sheet ice offers, of course, is an enormous canvas, bigger than any theatre could offer, on which a director with flair can paint in large, bold strokes. The most effective routine in Holiday's more-than-two-hour show is also the simplest: regimented lines of 30 dancers, dressed in a single colour, forming a rotating star. It's a classic: the skaters on the outside scooting to keep up, the ones nearer the hub doing a judicious shuffle. The whole is a feat of military planning, immaculately brought off.

The other thing ice is good at is speed, and once or twice in the solo items we are allowed to marvel at the phenomenon in its purest form. Building momentum round the rink in large, fierce swirls generates a physical thrill for the skater that transfers directly to spectators, not least those near enough to feel the rush of air as he passes. The other great speed-number is the fast pirouette: a champion ice-dancer on a true perpendicular can spin until almost invisible. Even more impressively, once out of the turn, she glides on without turning a hair.

Certain kinds of movement are unwieldy on skates, whatever the dancers' skill. In its desperate search for innovation Holiday on Ice attempts the rumba and the can-can, both somewhat gingerly. It can't be done. Nor can knockabout comedy, to judge by the Ukrainian duo whose chief bid for laughs is to go cross-eyed. Their acrobatics are marked by a dampening degree of caution - quite understandably with the equivalent of carving knives stuck to the soles of their feet. Decapitation would not be funny either.

As entire families rise from their seats for the umpteenth unscheduled loo-break, or to fetch fresh popcorn, you realise that Holiday on Ice is exempt from normal codes of theatre conduct. Witness the bouncers who, during the interval, guard the ice. (From what? a geriatric urge to do a figure-of-eight? Everyone here is over 70 or under seven.) Holiday's nearest cousin is old-style circus, in its determined low-browness, in its marked style that remains impervious to the changing tastes of the real world. Fifty years on I don't doubt the biggest applause will still be for the Quality Street ballroom number, whose climax is the entry of a girl in a white crinoline who just stands and smiles. Why applaud? Because the compere tells us she's going to be married on ice.

'Holiday on Ice': Wembley Arena (0181 902 8833), to 9 Feb; then touring.

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are teaming up for a Hurricane Katrina drama

film
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore