SPEED, this years Holiday on Ice extravaganza is due to race into Brighton for a whistle stop 4 days in November at the Brighton Centre. I caught up with the show on its opening night in Holland for a performance that had me buzzing for hours afterwards.
No stranger to Guinness World Records for most watched show of all time, Holiday on Ice continues to break world records for visitor numbers, its famous wheel and spectacular kick line. This year's breathtaking journey throughout the speed of love, money, nature, time and thrill continues to push and break the boundaries of performance, both on and off the ice. It speeds from adrenalin pumping, fast paced and sexy, through lyrical and lovely to fun and hilarity, ending in an explosive finale. The death defying stunts, burlesque, and electro circus include a glorious mix of elements of dance, music, video and revolutionary ice performance within a stunning 4 dimensional set. Aerial daring and high jinks, flying surfers, stunt motorbikes tearing across the ice, giant beach balls bouncing around the auditorium and incredible choreography are just some of the highlights of this fun packed show.
I was lucky enough to be able to take a look backstage with Stage Manager Diggy Diegnan, and talk to members of the cast and crew. Far from dispelling the magic of what I had seen in the show the tour intensified my amazement. Seen close up the Death Claw - a series of gyrating orb segments with massive razor sharp teeth that principal skater, American Forrest "Ryan" McKinnon, jumps through - looks impossible to survive even when stationary. I was fascinated by its history as well - recycled in 1947 from B17 bomber parts it seems more a case of turning swords into swords rather than plough shares. The apparent ease with which some of the stunts are done at times belie their inherent dangers. There is a lot that could go wrong - not just a bone breaking [or fatal - particularly for the aerialists] fall on the ice but the lethally sharp objects that abound - from the blades of skates and the wicked studs on the motorbike tyres to the Death Claw - make getting timing right not just a question of looking good but of survival.
So what makes the performers do it? Ryan admits to having one or two close shaves and cuts from the Death Claw, but nothing seems to faze the man who was stunt double for Will Ferrell in "Blades of Glory". His parents were well known American ice comedians, and he has been on the ice since he was 19 months old. But it isn't just about starting early, all of the performers I talked to seemed to have a passion and energy - a drive to be the best and push the boundaries of their performance - that is the province of great athletes. It is this drive that led to Ryan, and his co principal skater Melody Le Moal from France, who had both never driven a motorbike a year ago, learning not only to ride but to do their death defying stunts on the ice with the two 290cc bikes in the show. Granted they had one of the worlds best to teach them - the show's Motorbike Stunt DirectorJean-Pierre Goy was stuntman on The Dark Knight, the Wolfman, and Tomorrow Never Dies - but who would have dreamed someone as elegant and graceful as Melody would take to thundering around doing hair raising, terrifying stunts on a motorbike? Or that she would enjoy it so much she would buy herself a Harley to cruise around on in her spare time?
If I had Melody's workload I think I'd be spending all my spare time sleeping - another surprise for me was the belated recognition that the cast and crew of what seem to be hundreds actually number barely 50. This entails some very fast costume, skate changes [Ryan has at least seven] and role changes for all of the performers - its as fast and furious off stage as it is on and must be incredibly demanding to maintain the illusion of effortless performance. The stilt skates that Melody wears for part of the performance weigh in at four kilos but you wouldn't think it when you see her gracefully lift one leg straight into the air above her head. And within minutes she is skateless and suspended from the roof in a golden hoop… SPEED truly is dizzyingly breathtaking in so many ways…

Although SPEED has a cast of some of the best skaters from around the world I was keen to chat to the two up and coming young UK stars of the show, Jade Whitlock and Tom Paulson. Twenty five year old Jade, who has been skating since the age of 4, is Brighton based when she is not touring with HOI. She has been with the show since the age of 17 and is currently the chorus line girls captain - it can't be easy keeping the worlds longest kick line in step but the vivacious brunette has what it takes! The charming, elfin faced Tom who looks a lot younger than his twenty four years, hails from Nottingham. He was a comparative latecomer to skating - he didn't begin until he was 11 - but as he says, it just makes him work all the harder. This is the third HOI show he has worked on in two years, and though he says it can be difficult it IS exciting - and fun - to be on the ice, with the audience having a great time.

And that seems to be the key to all the skaters - they are born entertainers who channel their energy and passion into creating this wonderful spectacle for us. They don't do it alone - they are backed by a creative team that reads like a list of Who's Who of talent in show production: Creative Director Bart Doerfler has worked with the likes of The Walt Disney Company, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Universal Studios, Costume Designer Cynthia Nordstrom with Lady Gaga, Sound Designer Jeroen ten Brinke's CV includes the hit musicals Saturday Night Fever and Fame, Video content designer Jan Gitsel co-directed all sliding events at Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010, Associate choreographer Simone Grigorescu is a former world professional champion skater and Multi award winning set designer Bart Clement are just some of the talent behind the stars who are out in front of the audience. Stage Entertainment Touring Productions have brought all this talent together for the Sixty-ninth year of Holiday on Ice - it just goes from strength to strength and its easy to see why. Not to be missed!

SPEED will be at the Brighton Centre from 22nd - 25th November - for full details and ticket information www.holidayonice.co.uk

2012-10-18 SPEED - the show in Utrecht, Holland

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2012-10-19 Behind the scenes at SPEED - Holiday on Ice

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