An Ice Show From the Land of Ballet
     The latest production of "Cinderella" by the St. Petersburg Ice Ballet seems set to raise the bar on many little girls' fantasies. With its dizzying combination of fairy tale magic, flowing tutus and thrilling skating spins and leaps performed by a company of 31 ice dancers, budding ballerinas and would-be Olympic skaters may soon be dreaming of crossover careers.
     Founded in 1967 in St. Petersburg - home to the famed Kirov Ballet - the company blends the artistry and lyricism of classical ballet with the technical intricacies of figure skating. Since its first tour more than 30 years ago, the St. Petersburg Ice Ballet has performed worldwide with an ever-expanding repertory that includes full-length productions of "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Nutcracker."
     Now in the midst of its sixth consecutive North American tour, the group makes a brief return visit Saturday to Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre with two performances of its new production of "Cinderella."
     Set to the Prokofiev score, this "Cinderella" has original choreography by Konstantin Rassadin, the company's resident choreographer.
     Rassadin, a former principal dancer with the Maryinsky Theater of Opera and Ballet in St. Petersburg (formerly the Kirov) has danced with such luminaries as Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova. After choreographing traditional productions for ballet companies throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union, he joined the St. Petersburg Ice Ballet in 1980.
     "I needed a new challenge," he said through an interpreter during a phone interview before a matinee performance in New York. Drawing on his classical dance and theater background, Rassadin focuses on training the company members, all of whom are champion ice skaters, in musicality, acting and ballet.
     "Together with the choreography, music is the most important function for setting ballet on ice," said Rassadin, known for meticulously staging every musical phrase.
     "Ballet on ice is art, sport skating is not, it's about speed, and music comes second. The idea of ballet on ice is to produce an artistic image."
     The touring company keeps a hectic pace. With 16 U.S. cities to cover, they are moving almost every day, which makes it necessary for them to bring three portable ice rinks. In preparation for each show, the rink is set directly on top of the theater's stage and maintained by portable refrigeration equipment throughout performances.
     Each rink takes 24 hours to set up and 12 to disassemble, making spares a must - while the company performed on the East Coast this week, another rink was already on its way to California.
     Its "Cinderella" on ice is adorned with lavish sets and a sumptuous array of costumes. As it integrates drama with the movements of classical ballet and the athleticism of skating, there are also touches of humor and whimsy. In one playful scene reminiscent of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," Cinderella - skated by award-winning Tatiana Prokofieva - dances with a candelabra, a samovar, and a broom, all magically come to life.
     The balletic version of the well-known fairy tale wherein poor, put-upon Cinderella's inherent kindness earns her redemption - and a Prince Charming - at the flick of a wand from her Fairy Godmother, was first performed in Moscow in 1945 by the Bolshoi Ballet, with choreography by Rotislav Zakharov and an original score by Sergei Prokofiev.
     Many others followed over the years, including American Ballet Theatre's production, presented in December at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
     Past performances of the St. Petersburg Ice Ballet have been described as "an artistic feast for the eyes." Rassadin compares the ice dancing to sculpture.
     "Choreography for the stage is like a picture - the audience is only able to see it from one point of view. With ballet on ice, it's moving, like a round sculpture, and the movement has to be beautiful every second and from every side."


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