Slip-sliding away to dreamland

Former Olympic ice-skaters bring their artistry to Sleeping Beauty
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The Independent Culture

Sadler's Wells is about to take delivery of five tons of ice, in preparation for its production of Sleeping Beauty on Ice. It is the first time an ice rink has been built at the theatre and it will take three days to install a skating surface of 55ft by 60ft. The ice will be spread in freezer trays on stage and sprayed with water all night, so that it melts and re-freezes, eventually constituting 14 tons. During the show, hot water from a hosepipe attached to a broom will keep the surface "fresh", as the body of the rink is kept at a constant minus 8 Celsius with more than 10 miles of tubing.

Sadler's Wells is about to take delivery of five tons of ice, in preparation for its production of Sleeping Beauty on Ice. It is the first time an ice rink has been built at the theatre and it will take three days to install a skating surface of 55ft by 60ft. The ice will be spread in freezer trays on stage and sprayed with water all night, so that it melts and re-freezes, eventually constituting 14 tons. During the show, hot water from a hosepipe attached to a broom will keep the surface "fresh", as the body of the rink is kept at a constant minus 8 Celsius with more than 10 miles of tubing.

But how does it compare to an Olympic-size rink for the performers who skate at speeds of up to 20mph? "It's a joke," says the 1997 ice-skating world champion and 1998 Olympic Bronze medallist Mandy Woetzel, who makes her stage debut as Princess Aurora. "It's like skating on an ice-cube." Born in Chemitz, Germany, Woetzel has been skating since she was four. Now she heads a cast of 23 Championship skaters from Russia who have won 210 medals between them.

The show's director, Tony Mercer, created The Imperial Ice Stars in 2004; he has directed everything from Phantom of the Opera on Ice to frosted versions of Carmen, Barnum, Peter Pan and The Nutcracker. "Certainly, what I am doing is theatre on ice," he concedes. "It's a new style of presentation. Ice shows are usually grouped together - it's Holiday on Ice or Disney on Ice, performed in ice arenas. What I set out to do is to present world-class figure skating and ice-skating in the intimacy of theatre on world-class stages."

The opulent backdrops are created by Eamon D'Arcy who designed the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies. Tatiana Tarasova, who has coached seven Olympic gold medallists, is the choreographer.

Set to Tchaikovsky's music, Sleeping Beauty on Ice tells the story of Princess Aurora and her handsome prince, played by Vadim Yarkov (a former member of the USSR national team). With the evil fairy Carabosse, played by Maria Borovikova, casting a spell upon her, Aurora's happiness depends on the Lilac Fairy, played by another Russian figure-skating champion, Olga Sharutenko.

Mercer claims that more than 400 top skaters want to enlist in his company, but "they must learn something new to come and perform in my show. I ask that everything they were able to do in competition life, they are able to do in my show.

"The great challenge to figure skaters is that because they are competitive by nature, to come here and to be pushed again reawakens their spirit of competition. They must work hard to get to the top of my company. They may be national or world champions, but that doesn't stop them wanting to be Sleeping Beauty. The audience have to believe they are not only a great figure skater, but also a great performer."

'Sleeping Beauty on Ice', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737) 8 to 13 March; UK tour to 14 May (tour hotline: 0870 128 3558)

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