Sleeping Beauty on Ice, Sadler's Wells, London

A curious mix of fire and ice
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The Independent Culture

It's a very spangly kind of show, this, a stage full of energetic tinsel. Sleeping Beauty on Ice is an ice-dance version of Tchaikovsky's score, performed not at ice rinks, but in theatres. An Olympic medallist plays the heroine, smiling brightly through jumps and throws. The music, on tape, is brutally chopped and rearranged.

It's a very spangly kind of show, this, a stage full of energetic tinsel. Sleeping Beauty on Ice is an ice-dance version of Tchaikovsky's score, performed not at ice rinks, but in theatres. An Olympic medallist plays the heroine, smiling brightly through jumps and throws. The music, on tape, is brutally chopped and rearranged.

Fourteen tons of ice have been laid on the Sadler's Wells stage. There's a van parked outside, pumping cooling fluids to keep the surface solid. The ice glitters prettily, but there isn't that much of it. Skating belongs in arenas, on broad stretches of ice; think of the run-ups needed for those jumps. The Imperial Ice Stars can cross the Wells stage in two lazy strides; they hardly have time to straighten their legs. Steps have to be paced with finicky care. There are plenty of sharply braked stops, with chips of ice flying across the footlights.

This Russian company are technically strong, ripping through their spins and catches. Seen this close, skating really does look death-defying. In corps de ballet scenes, there are half a dozen lifts and jumps going on at once, blades flashing at head height. Skaters dip perilously on landing, recovering in grand swoops.

The choreographer, Tatiana Tarasova, is keen on spinning lifts, with the women swung by wrist or ankle. The momentum is terrific, and rather scary. If anyone let go too soon, the girl would land somewhere in the middle of the stalls.

The stunts are fitted into a loose narrative. A booming voiceover explains the story, describing Aurora's birth as "an event of royal magnitude". Carabosse, the wicked fairy, has all sorts of extra scenes, turning up to plot or to gloat amid clouds of dry ice. Her retinue carry her about, waiting patiently as she contorts herself overhead. There are even some trapeze scenes, and a junior bad fairy blowing flame in the background. At court, the master of ceremonies has become a kind of jester. Anton Kylkov turns cartwheels - one hand, two hands or no hands on the ice - and tears his hair over the forgotten invitation.

Production values are skimpy. Natella Abdulaeva's costumes are the familiar mix of nylon and glitter seen in skating competitions. Royal robes are sewn with large black triangles to make very geometric ermine. The king's trailing sleeves, with big pompons, look just like ski poles. The handsome prince is unexpectedly Scottish, with a tartan sash over his robes.

Here and there, Tarasova's choreography echoes that of the ballet. Skaters get through the small steps by prancing on their blade tips. The rest of the time, movements are vaguely fitted to the music; they certainly aren't shaped by it.

The soloists keep going until they've run out of exhibition movements. If a musical number isn't long enough, it's padded out with arbitrary repeats. The performers come to a halt when they run out of steps, switching off the music at the next convenient moment.

The performers are accomplished, but the best skating comes from Olga Sharutenko as the Lilac Fairy. She has a graceful line, and her steps are lyrically smooth. Aurora is danced by Mandy Woetzel, an Olympic bronze medallist. She jumps and spins furiously, but lacks stage presence.

Touring to 14 May (0870 128 3556)

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