Elissa Blake June 03, 2012
The Nutcracker on Ice will bring a cool change.
Take 26 ice-skating champions, give them lavish costumes and a snow-filled, twinkling set, then ask them to act out the much-loved children's tale The Nutcracker. Can they do it? Can sports stars create convincing theatre?
Tony Mercer, one of the world's leading theatre-on-ice directors, certainly thinks so.
''Mostly we see ice dancers in competitions, where every lift, jump and spin is executed for a grade or a mark,'' says Mercer, the artistic director of the Imperial Ice Stars, coming to the Capitol this week with their new spectacular The Nutcracker on Ice.
''Here we are telling a story. I want every jump to mean something. The challenge, as a theatre director, is to adapt people who have come from sport into theatrical performers.''
So how does he do that? Last month, in Moscow, Mercer auditioned 115 dancers for roles in upcoming productions of Swan Lake on Ice and Sleeping Beauty on Ice. He selected just three.
''They all had fabulous blade skills because they'd been training since they were five years old, but I'm looking at the person,'' he says. ''I think everybody has the ability to perform one role in life, the role that is closest to their own spirit or character. But I need ones who can move from one character to another and deliver it on a regular basis. Not everyone has got it; we have to work hard with them in the training.''
Mercer, who is English but based in Moscow, says the company spends a third of its time rehearsing on a theatre stage, minus the skates.
''I create the theatre first. I direct the story on stage and then we add in the ice dance. I create choreography that makes the story emotional.''
Set in 1900s St Petersburg, The Nutcracker on Ice will be performed to Tchaikovsky's original music though the story will be somewhat lighter in tone than the familiar ballet version.
''Tchaikovsky intended the uncle to be more magical than evil,'' Mercer says. ''I've added a lot more humour so the performers need to be light-hearted and have comic timing. The end result is you have dancers who are really enjoying themselves and audiences who are enthralled with the story. They're also having big belly laughs, too, and that's been taking people by surprise.''
The company arrives in Sydney after performing Swan Lake on Ice at London's Royal Albert Hall and a sold-out season of The Nutcracker in Johannesburg. He's not concerned that Nutcracker, traditionally a Christmas story, is playing here in June. ''It was glorious weather in Johannesburg and it was packed every night,'' he says. ''It is odd for me that June is winter in Australia, but at least the dark nights and cool weather will suit the mood, and the advance ticket sales are huge.''
Australian set designer Eamon D'Arcy has created a snowy streetscape and a stately family home that transforms into the Kingdom of Sweets.
The show also features pyrotechnics and aerial work, and Spanish illusionist Jorges Blass has created magical moments especially for the production.
''We attract audiences who like theatre and audiences who love ice skating,'' Mercer says. ''It was always my intention to make the jumps beautiful and tell a story at the same time. That is theatre.''
The Nutcracker on Ice plays at the Capitol Theatre from June 6-10. Tickets $59-$109. Bookings 1300 723 038.