Artistic Director Tony Mercer Discusses The Nutcracker On Ice

The international ice dance sensation, The Imperial Ice Stars production of The Nutcracker on Ice starring ITV’s Dancing on Ice duo Keith Chegwin and Olga Sharutenkoc continues until Sunday November 17.
Acclaimed Artistic Director, Tony Mercer, the world’s leading creator of contemporary theatre-on-ice, has once again teamed with four-time figure skating World Champion and dual Olympic gold medallist, Evgeny Platov, and dual World Champion, Maxim Staviski, to create choreography that further raises the bar, with ever more breath-taking high-speed leaps and throws, and awe-inspiring acrobatics, coupled with the most graceful and sublime ice dancing.
“We’ve been to Cardiff on three separate occasions,” says Tony, “with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake . I created Nutcracker on Ice two years ago, it premiered in South Africa and we just launched it in the UK at the London Palladium, it was one of those shows we hadn’t done and we just felt we should have it in our repertoire.”
Nutcracker on Ice is the Imperial Ice Stars first attempt at comedic performance and Tony is very happy with the results, “It was the first time with the performers I attempted to do comedic work, all the boys and girls are ex Olympians but in the 10 years the ice stars have been in existence, they have never become actors or actresses. When we actually opened in Johannesburg they got it, so that was the biggest achievement, bringing elements into the production we’d never done before. We also had a real magician create illusions for us so we’re doing lots of new things we haven’t had before.”
Anyone who has witnessed productions of The Nutcracker in the past will be pleasantly surprised by the new version as Tony reveals, “Petipa’s original was always very dark and I thought “Hang on! This isn’t what it’s supposed to be, it’s the season of goodwill and Christmas. Let’s have a bit more of a light-hearted approach, which is how Tchaikovsky wanted it”
Of course, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work on the production too, from seasonal sets to maintaining the all-important ice stage for the performers.
“On the stage essentially we make a big baking tray with a wooden frame around the outside,” reveals technical director Paul Mansfield, “then underneath there’s rows of rubber matting that contains glycol, chilled at minus twelve degrees which like a refrigerator continually circulates. We then spray water on it to keep it freezing.”
The ice is then maintained by the 15 –strong technical staff between and after use. It is an ongoing process to maintain a stage safe enough for the performers to push the boundaries of ice dance theatre including stunning air dances and fiery acrobatic skills.
“It’s a very enjoyable production,” continues Paul, “the skaters perform stunts, effects and elements you’ll see at world championships but they are doing them on an ice rink that’s a quarter of the size of a standard skating arena.  There’s something phenomenal about how they perform those effects in such a small space and I’m happy just to be supporting that so that they can be safe on the ice rink.”
Tony feels The Wales Millennium Centre was the ideal venue to bring The Nutcracker to. “I’d say it is in the top 5 in the world as a performing space and from an auditorium point of view as to how the light directs on to the stage. We were the second show to perform here so we actually feel it’s our venue, and this was my mum’s birthplace so it feels like home!”

  • A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement, The Guide during November 2013.
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