Sleeping Beauty on Ice, Sadlers Wells, London

As charismatic as a chiller cabinet
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The Independent Culture

It doesn't take more than a moment's thought to see that ice-skating and ballet don't have much in common. Skating prowess is measured in perfect sixes; dance excellence is predicated on something more emotional and diffuse. But these discrepancies haven't stopped professional skaters from fancying themselves as theatre artists, still less promoters from seeing the box-office potential of "Russian ballet" that whizzes past your nose at 40 miles an hour.

It doesn't take more than a moment's thought to see that ice-skating and ballet don't have much in common. Skating prowess is measured in perfect sixes; dance excellence is predicated on something more emotional and diffuse. But these discrepancies haven't stopped professional skaters from fancying themselves as theatre artists, still less promoters from seeing the box-office potential of "Russian ballet" that whizzes past your nose at 40 miles an hour.

So it is that The Imperial Ice Stars' Sleeping Beauty on Ice isn't just about scooting around a frozen arena as loudly costumed characters in a fairytale. It's about twizzling round a much smaller frozen stage to the music of Tchaikovsky (albeit chopped about and patched together from different recordings). Its scenario and characters aim more or less to match those Petipa devised in 1890, and choreographer Tatiana Tariasova even tries to mimic some of ballet's steps. Anton Klykov's acrobatic court flunky, Catalabutte, is sent hopping in wide turning circles round the stage in imitation of a manège, and Mandy Woetzel's Princess Aurora is tipped onto the tips of her skates as if on point. More startlingly, the Lilac Fairy, a stoic Olga Sharoutenko, is carried on her prince-seeking journey by four men who, during a seamless series of some two dozen lifts, are at pains never to let her feet touch the ground. It takes a while to realise why: she's wearing ballet shoes, and when finally allowed to dismount, gives a dressage-pony-like display of point work on the bare ice.

It's this sheer teeth-gritted determination to stretch the limited repertoire of competition skating to its outer limits that makes Sleeping Beauty on Ice so gruesomely watchable. On a full-size ice rink, skaters traditionally pick up speed then turn on the diagonal. On a theatre stage, even a relatively large one like Sadler's Wells, all the lifts have to happen in giddying circles, and jumps are for height, not distance. Yet what ballerina wouldn't long, just once, to be able to recline full-length along her partner's back while he turns repeatedly in arabesque?

There is no doubt that the company's 23 skaters know their business as technicians: all are competition winners at national, international, or even Olympic level, and the programme details their triumphs at tedious length. But there is no acknowledgement that it takes more than accuracy and speed to make theatre-dance live. Vadim Yarkov's prince is handsome enough, and German guest-star Woetzel is a perky Aurora, but their joint charisma could freeze a chiller cabinet. We don't believe for one moment in that kiss.

Yet if you can overlook the strained pretension to classical dance and the fact that, engaged in unfamiliar movement, a skating boot has all the elegance and line of a plaster cast, there is a lurid enjoyment to be had from this odd enterprise. Energy and conviction levels couldn't be higher, and there is a certain sadistic relish to be had in the knowledge that, given the number of skaters moving at speed in a smallish space, a crash or at least a tumble is distinctly possible. Yulia Krasinskaia's dragonfly, gliding about freakishly on foot-high stilts, paradoxically looks the least likely to come a cropper. In all, then, a curious evening. One to enjoy in a crowd.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737), tonight; New Wimbledon Theatre (0870 060 6646), Tue to Sat; tour continues

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