THE only virtuoso company in the world to combine classical dance and figure-skating" - that is how the Paris newspaper "France-Soir" described St. Petersburg's "Ballet on Ice" in the 1980s.
The company is now famous throughout the world, having extended the scope of the traditional ice-show. Some dance routines and skating manoeuvres, which used to constitute the repertoire of the majority of such companies, have been replaced by staged ice ballets.
The Leningrad "Ballet on Ice"The company's first appearance was at the "Yubileyny" sports centre in December 1967; their repertoire con-sisted of routines which were not restricted to any one style or theme. Their performances were reminiscent of the famous American show "Holiday on Ice", that is they featured figure-skating stars who had retired from the "great sport". The company was managed by the choreographer Konstantin Boyarsky; it was his idea to change the traditional skating show and to transfer classical dance on to the ice rink, thus creating a synthesis of sport and art.
This new venture required a totally different approach from traditional ballet or ice-skating. It was necessary to bring together classical choreography and the elements of the sport, while taking into account the special nature of the ice rink.
Different approaches in performance were also necessary: new ice-ballet "steps" and "moves" had to be invented. The routines were enriched by the grace of dance, which made the iceskating elements more attractive. A choreography for ice-dancing came into being, with its own rules and means of expression.
The company's repertoire gradually grew more extensive, featuring modern dance compositions as well as their own productions of the classics - "An Encounter with St. Petersburg", to the music of Johann Strauss, "Swan Lake" and "A Romantic Poem" to music by Tchaikovsky. It was impossible to transfer ballets from the stage to the ice without making alterations; they were created on stage, and only later transferred to the ice. It is worth noting that the company's trainers and producers were not figure-skaters, but stars of Russian ballet: Nataliya Dudinskaya, Konstantin Sergeyev, Nikita Dolgushin and even Boris Eifman.
The effect was astonishing. Only six years after the company's first perfor-mance, "Theatre" magazine wrote: "...we can now say that a ballet theatre on ice has emerged; it does not copy anyone else, but draws on the traditions of Russian choreography to create a magnificent spectacle, a blend of the dynamism of figure-skating with the varied forms of the art of dance".
The New Repertoire
In 1979 Konstantin Rassadin became the company's chief ballet-master: he was a pupil of the celebrated choreographer Leonid Yakobson, formerly one of the leading soloists at the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet House. This artist carried on the traditions of the Leningrad school of classical dance, and with his arrival the company's repertoire was defined; they now perform exclusively classical productions to the music of Chopin, Massenet, Kalman, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Khachaturian.
Millions of people have seen the new productions of "Ballet on Ice"; it has toured all the major cities in Russia and has enjoyed great success abroad, on ice rinks in Warsaw and Athens, Paris and Seoul.
"The performances of the Leningrad Ballet on Ice showed us how natural and beautiful a superior art-form can be", was how the Seoul ballet critic Kim Ken E rounded off his review.
Professionals remarked on the new possibilities that the ice opened up for ballet, the art of dance being combined with the skill of virtuoso figure-skaters. The performers slid gracefully over the ice, executing inconceivable ballet steps; they could adopt a pose and hold it immobile while continuing to glide over the ice. Many critics admitted that at such moments they forgot that the performance was actually taking place on skates, though naturally there were some limitations: it was impossible to execute on the ice all the elegant pirouettes that a ballerina on her points was able to do.
Nevertheless, the company tried not to depart from classical principles, in technique and in costumes. A dance with a theme required precise and expressive staging, and a costume which would not only make the charac-ter look attractive, but would also emphasise his or her image and char-acter. Mind you, it was quite difficult to dance in ballet tutus on ice - it required a special lifting technique and made the male dancer's task apprecia-bly more difficult.
On Stage in the Theatre
It all collapsed in 1992. Economic difficulties meant that the company had to stop touring and to cut down on the number of performances. "Ballet on Ice" was in a parlous state until 1994 and no-one can know what future would have awaited the company if they had not then been invited to perform in the USA. The American tour took place to packed houses and rave reviews in the press. Phenomenal success accompanied the St. Petersburg company throughout the country. The many years of persistent hard work had paid off.
"Classical dancers can only dream of the glisses, pirouettes and pas-de-deux that illuminated the Peabody Auditorium with a rare brilliance", wrote the American newspapers about the St. Petersburg "Ballet on Ice".
It was in the USA that the company first appeared on stage in a theatre. A special unit with portable ice, wonderful scenery and costumes followed the company from state to state in purpose-built trailers. In 1995 American audiences were the first to see "Sleeping Beauty" performed in a theatre.
The "St. Petersburg Ballet on Ice" now numbers 40 dancers, who have all undergone special preparatory training. This is because it is not sufficient to be a professional sportsman to dance on the ice - choreographic gifts are also essential, as well as grace, artistry and a fairly slim figure. Behind the elegance and beauty of the performances lies a great deal of hard work and many hours of intensive exercise. Rehearsals are directed by well-known ballet dancers - Galina Pirozhnaya, a former soloist at the Maly Opera House, and ballet-master Konstantin Rassadin.
In recent times, unfortunately, the company's performances have been seen much more often in North America or Europe than in Russia, unlike their previous schedule... They are on tour virtually all the time.
It is not certain when ballet-lovers in St. Petersburg will be able to appreciate this new production. The company has big plans: they have been invited to South Africa, New Zealand, China and South Korea; they receive so many offers that it would be just impossible to accept them all...
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