The Nutcracker on Ice (Royal Albert Hall)
International ice dance group, The Imperial Ice Stars, return for a third season at the Royal Albert Hall
There are currently two ice rinks in South Ken, closer together even than those at the Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park in New York. On the first, outside the Natural History Museum, you and I can glide and stumble in a small park of merry-go-round, mulled wine and coloured lights; at the second, up the road at the Albert Hall, "Imperial Ice Stars" from Russia recreate the Christmas Eve perennial classic by Tchaikovsky.
The Russians, paying their third visit in recent years, are giving just twelve performances this week, but I suspect that all Nutcracker nuts and small girls in pumps and plaids will be more delighted by English National Ballet's Edwardian version at the Coliseum (until 10 January). For this is a decidedly cold, frosty and curiously soulless Nutcracker, in which even the perfection of the skating becomes monotonous.
The digital designs are a combination of cheap Christmas cards and CBeebies cartoon colours and characters presented on a flat LED wall. Even the "live orchestra" (which sounds half dead) is flashed up briefly on this screen with a conductor taking his bow at the end; where are they exactly? And the idea of the battle of the mice and soldiers being little Marie's dream is sketched with almost perfunctory disdain.
Even the snowfall looks sorry for itself, and any slight frisson of dramatic tension is accompanied by some firework phutts going off in the arena. Marie's prince is lithe and charming enough, though he looks a little like Mr Bean, and he comes to life in miniature form, jumping out of his box with marionette movement and acrobatic precision. The snowflakes (with light-up tutus) and muscular Arabian dancers in the endless series of second act divertissements are good, too.
But the Nutcracker can only succeed on charm and beauty; the story's over in the first act and all the most famous music (distilled in the Suite) is in the second, with the dance of the Sugar Plum fairy and the Waltz of the Flowers, here done by a group of upright pea pods, or hyacinth shoots, I'm not sure.
The costumes, overall, are poor. It's hard to tell, for instance, if Drosselmeyer, who gives Marie the present of the inanimate leg-scything nutcracker, is a dotty professor or an Austrian mountain hiker. I'm all for eclectic ice dance shows, but I much prefer such cabarets at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach; Nutcracker is a marginal masterpiece and cultural landmark that needs freshness and renewal - Balanchine, Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne - not seaside rep ropiness.
The Nutcracker on Ice runs at the Royal Albert Hall until 2 January.