Review: The Nutcracker On Ice

“Please consider wearing warm clothing to The Nutcracker on Ice, as the air conditioning will be slightly cooler than normal in order to stabilise the temperature of the ice”

It’s not often patrons are advised to rug up for a night at the Arts Centre. Director Tony Mercer’s adaptation of The Nutcracker on Ice well and truly justifies the elaborate transformation of the space, however – a setting almost as enthralling as the performance itself.

To call the skating itself outstanding would be an understatement. Imperial Ice, the company touring The Nutcracker On Ice, brings a 26-strong cast of World, European and National Championship skaters to perform. Each of the dancers not only come from a competitive background, but have also been dancing since they were three or four years old.

It’s strange to see the State Theatre frozen over, but even stranger to see the curtains rise and figures drop from the ceiling, gliding effortlessly to Tchaikovsky. Choreographer Maria Orlovo insists that with such extensive training, the dancing is never dangerous, only fun, but it’s hard to believe there’s no risk element here. As the story begins, the ice begins to fly, chipped away as the performers establish their credentials.

With a plot familiar to almost everybody, the challenges of staging this performance are manifold. How best to tell a tale in a way that’s interesting and new, while simultaneously retaining the authenticity of the classic? Moreover, how to balance that authenticity against the fact that each of these ballerinas comes with a razor sharp pair of skates attached to their feet, and don’t so much glide as shoot across the stage?

Mercer and Orlovo manage each of these challenges admirably. There’s little tampering with the timelessness of ‘The Nutcracker’, but additionally it’s acknowledged that skating brings a new dimension to the piece. There’s a focus on group skating here that allows a complicated and dazzling choreography. Ropes dangled from the ceiling, with a reminder that none of these dancers are mono-faceted coming in the form of an elaborate acrobatic display. Fire twirling was both a spectacular and counter-intuitive addition to the show, raising the difficulty of the performance by heating the ice.

Orlovo notes that within a competitive world, ice skating is rigid and structured, but that “inside the theatre, you can do whatever you like.” The surreal setting and incredible performances make it all the easier to suspend disbelief and slip into this make believe world. Rugged up warmly and nestled in our seats, Hoffman’s piece unfolded before us seamlessly, and it wasn’t only the six year old girls in the audience (dressed in their best ballerina outfits) who were leaning forward with mouths gaping.

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Carmel Wallis

The author Carmel Wallis

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