The ice man cometh

Barry C Chung

Dance visionary Tony Mercer gets skates on for a chilly classic at HKAPA

Barry C Chung |

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Scenes from Nutcracker on Ice, which is set to turn HKAPA into a skating rink.
Putting on any stage performance is hard enough without making the players strut their stuff on a sheet of ice. But that's precisely what producer and artistic director Tony Mercer set out to do with his creation Nutcracker on Ice.

This is no conventional ice show. Rather than taking place in an ice arena, this adaptation of the ballet classic is staged in a theatre, on a purpose-built skating rink that can be taken apart for transport, and put together in the show's next venue.

"Years ago I would watch an ice arena show and wouldn't be able to see what anyone was doing, which was a shame," said Mercer, who spoke to Young Post by phone.

"I would enjoy the performance - so far as I could see - but you're just so far from the action. Having gone through that disappointment, I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to put the players on a theatre stage, with all the nice scenery around it."

Mercer first achieved his goal in 2003 after co-founding production company Imperial Ice Stars, which stages Nutcracker on Ice. At that time there were plenty of doubters who said it couldn't be done: both the technical feat of creating ice in a theatre, and getting the same performance, same speed, jumps and spins from the skaters on a much smaller, more cluttered area of ice.

Mercer was confident he could do the power of an ice show to a more intimate venue. It took him and his technicians two years to figure out how, negotiating with a company in Germany to get the idea right. They used the resultant system for a year until they devised a better, more efficient method.

Whereas in ice arenas the ice is put down once and once only, Mercer's team had to learn how to do it on a fortnightly, or even weekly, basis, as their shows moved from venue to venue. "It wasn't only a case of moving quickly - building with speed, performing and then taking it down," says Mercer. "We also needed adaptability to the rink because every theatre stage was slightly different."

As Mercer admits, figuring out the ice part was, "probably more difficult than [figuring out] how we performed in that space". But the idea of bringing something new to entertainment fuelled his passion and kept him going until he had the solution.

"I just thought it would be beautiful to watch a new dance genre on a theatre stage," he says. "We've seen everything else: riverdancing; ballet's been around for a long, long time.

"So, for me, the goal was to bring the show to people - the ice dance side, the artistic side, and something you could tell a story through. I think that's what has caught people's imagination."

Nutcracker on Ice runs from Tuesday to November 18 at HKAPA.