The acclaimed Russian Ice Stars are back on January 8 with their production of Snow White. Julian Delplidge, the show’s producer, talked to David Bellan

The Russian Ice Stars were founded in 1990 by Julian Delplidge’s mother Vee Delplidge.

Some time ago she told me how she intended to set the level of these performances, retaining the extrovert excitement of skating, but making skating something to be taken seriously at the same time.

“The ballet purists will not accept ballet on ice,” she said. “At the same time, if you mention ballet to a lot of people in my audiences, you frighten them to death, so I had to find a happy medium. But I want my shows to look beautiful and graceful; I want the perfection of ballet applied to an ice show.”

When it came to it, this wasn’t so easy, as Julian explained: “It took a couple of years to find enough decent quality skaters.

“Essentially, we looked to Russia purely because if you look at the medal tallies, the Russians always seem to be holding the top spots, especially in ice dance and pairs skating, which is, I think, the most interesting application of ice skating.

“The Russian skaters do a lot of ballet training as well. Part of their coaching schedule was that they did probably an hour of ballet, six days a week, as part of their fitness programme, and a part of a general presentation class.

“One of the nice things when you’re rehearsing a work with our skaters, is that you can call out a ballet position and they know all about it. All the hands are the same, all the legs are the same, you actually speed up learning the choreography.”

This Snow White was originally created by the company’s long-time collaborator, Guiseppe Arena, the choreographer who created the opening of the winter Olympics. He is a former dancer in the ballet company of La Scala in Milan, where he worked with the likes of Fonteyn and Nureyev. So, in addition to having skaters with international and Olympic medals, this production is a class act through and through.

“Now our rehearsal director is Liudmilla Butskova, a former prima ballerina at the Bolshoi, who has been inducted into the Bolshoi’s hall of fame. We rehearse in Moscow, and Liudmilla takes particular care of any new skater, teaching them Guiseppes’s original choreography. We put a new twist on it now and again, and modernise it and bring it up to date.”

Touring a company is hard enough, but The Russian Ice Stars also travel with a transportable ice rink.

“We have three touring ice rinks, three different systems, ranging from a 12-metre up to a 30-metre rink. On very rare occasions we go into an ice arena — we did a show in Kuwait where they had a full-blown ice rink — but, although it’s difficult to move an ice rink every week, we do provide that ice rink, and we set it up in the theatre”.

Even a 30-metre ice rink is tiny compared with the huge expanses of ice these dancers originally worked on. Not only that, there are lots of them on the stage at the same time. I wondered whether that’s a problem.

“That’s one of the reasons that we like to use as many of the same people as possible, because they become very adapted to our style of work. Even so, we have a couple of new dancers each year, or even up to five on occasions.

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“We’ve had Olympic champions and dancers in the world’s top ten, but, when they start with us, they start in the chorus, because it takes them a little time to adapt. Obviously you can’t go straight in and give them a principal role, and risk letting the show down because they’re not used to skating on a small rink. So we make sure they’ve done a season in the lower ranks before they move on to bigger and better things.”

Over the past 12 years I’ve seen most of this company’s shows, including Snow White.

“The story is much as we know it except that the are seven woodsmen instead of dwarves (two of them were bearded girls the last time I saw it!), and the evil queen is now a beautiful witch.

“It seems extraordinary to me that, in addition to dancing out the story, so many skaters can perform on a small stage without crashing and falling during their high-speed routines, and that they can do their jumps and spins without the huge run-ups available in competition arenas.

“Succeeding, and making it all mean something, is quite an achievement.

Russian Ice Stars
New Theatre, Oxford
Thursday, January 8, until Sunday, January 11
For tickets, visit