Vee Deplidge, who runs the Wild Rose agency in Warrington (which, among other things, books out the Royal Marines Band), has just raised pounds 350,000, much of it her own money (she won't say how much), to stage Britain's first ice ballet theatre tour. She's always had a thing about dance - ever since she fell in love with the Lilac Fairy's costume as a child - and 'adores' the ice. So when, in 1990, she was watching a Torvill and Dean video and found herself mesmerised by two backing skaters from the Russian All Stars, she decided to create her own winter wonderland: a production of Sleeping Beauty, performed by the Russian All Stars - on ice. 'It hit me like a sledgehammer,' she says, 'a new art form, a concept that's never been done before.'
The notion left a lot of other people cold: 'Everyone said, 'It can't be done . . . The theatres are too small . . . It'll be boring.' They told me I was mad. The electrician at Sunderland Theatre, where I used to work, was going around muttering 'This will be a right load of crap.' A ballet purist friend of mine was saying 'Throw axels on a small stage? Impossible]' Even Tatiana Tarasova, the Olympic Russian coach, who I approached, said she wasn't sure if they could do it. But they don't know me. I'm pig-headed like that. And once I've made my mind up about something, I know.'
It's taken a year of planning, a multitude of long distance calls between Warrington and Moscow (where the show was being rehearsed), some major fund-raising ( pounds 2m in all) and a heap of argument (Deplidge's only words of Russian are swear-words) to get the project off, or rather on, the ground, but the 22-week, 17-venue run is currently underway. The 37 All Stars (including 23 skaters) have now reached Scarborough. They use one coach; their equipment fills three lorries. 'I'm there at every stop,' says Deplidge, 'keeping my eye out.'
It takes 36 hours to transform a provincial theatre stage into an ice rink and Deplidge has become something of an expert. 'First of all if it's raked, we have to level it off. Next we make a rail around the stage area in the wings, for the simple reason - if you saw the speed with which they came off, you'd see they have quite a drop. Then we lay the rink and fill it with polystyrene pipes connected to a big header pipe, which is taken through the stage dressing rooms, to a compressor pumping 'anti-freeze' glycol.
'Then at each place, we go to the fish market, or factory, and get a load of crushed ice to lay in the rink. We spray it with water which freezes, and we spray it again until we have about eight tons of ice on stage. You have to be very careful with the temperature - too hard it cracks, too soft it wets the costumes. And you have to build it up very carefully - it can't be lumpy and bumpy. That's why there are two intervals in the show: a small rink gets churned up very quickly, so we're up there raking off loose snow.'
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't take into account, for example, the trauma of the resident theatre staff ('Sometimes they run around, looking panicked. Sometimes they go pale and leave it to us'), the violence of the strike ('basically we smash the ice with anything we can get our hands on, dig it up with shovels and throw it into barrels'), or the nightmare of a mechanical hitch. They had a close shave at Croydon, where the theatre was three stories up, but it was at Liverpool that Deplidge really felt the ice begin to crack beneath her feet. 'All I'm prepared to say at this stage,' she says, 'is that the compressor was connected up wrongly and threw everything into reverse. Instead of pouring glycol in, it started sucking glycol out . . .'
Deplidge prides herself on her ability to jump from one crisis to the next: 'Put it this way, I don't envy people whose lives are on an even keel,' she says. She doesn't know what she'll do when the All Stars go home - 'I've lost all interest in anything else' - but a friend has suggested she try bomb disposal next.
Details of tour: 0925 601390
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