It was only a matter of time before someone combined the acrobatics of ice skating with the thrill of magic trickery. In fact, if the entire cast of Cirque du Soleil decided to pop on some skates, the result would probably be Magic on Ice. Produced by Steve Wheeler, "the world's premier ice-skating illusionist", the show is the headline event for Summer in Abu Dhabi, having done a lengthy run in the US.
The bar has been set high for this type of visual spectacle, with ever riskier routines being required to satisfy today's thrill-seeking audiences. Millions are often spent on production to provide the necessary sheen. But Magic on Ice, which is simply 18 skaters and some scary-looking contraptions backed by music and lighting, manages to deliver all the thrills without resorting to gloss. Unlike the venerable Cirque, there are no safety wires. And some of the manoeuvres, which are executed at high speed with just inches between the skaters and the unforgiving ice, are breathtaking.
There is no discernible plot. We simply move from one routine to the next via various sparkly velour ensembles (one of the major perks of skating). Highly skilled set pieces are punctuated by magnificently hammy magic tricks involving industrial machinery and strange, otherworldly sculptures. And the best part: it never takes itself too seriously. In fact, it's hilarious. Not in an arty, clown way. But in the way the performers negotiate the props.
There was the woman with the hoops. As she skated round the rink, a man threw her so many times we lost count, and she simply pulled them over her head and started spinning. All we could see was a neon blur. At one point, she even transformed into a giant Slinky. Pure brilliance. Then there was the couple with the rope who swooshed calmly around the ice, the woman balancing on the rope - which the man was holding - using only her blade.
And finally, there was the troupe who looked like they'd strayed from Starlight Express, flashing torches at each other as a man and a woman pulled off terrific feats of balance in the middle. One of the best acts involved a young man who clapped and danced his way around the rink before breaking into a triple spin and doing the splits in the air - just in case we'd forgotten he could skate. But all this paled into insignificance when the magic started, and they wheeled yet another piece of heavy machinery on to the stage. It started with a trolley, which held a giant ice cube, held up by strange, metal tentacles. Up went the curtain, down went the curtain, and out popped a girl. All fairly basic illusionary tricks, but done with such flair that you couldn't not gasp. Next came a chariot, upon which a spike was erected. I won't ruin the surprise, but suffice to say there was a spinning girl involved. Then came an industrial-sized fan, followed by a large metal chest - chained up, naturally - with more people appearing and disappearing. And finally, the denouement: an inverted pyramid set alight, with a man chained up inside. Genuinely the most entertaining thing I have seen in a long time.
In the wrong hands, such an ambitious production could be the stuff of nightmares. But the show has such charm and the cast such spirit that it is difficult to find fault with its 60 minutes of thrills and spills. There may be a couple of months of searing heat left, but for the the next two weeks at least, there is an absolute gem of a show at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink. Parents be warned, though: you may be in for a hit of skating lessons come autumn.
Magic on Ice is at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink, Zayed Sports City, daily from 8pm until August 15 (except August 9). Tickets are priced at Dh75 for children under 12, Dh200 for adults, and can be purchased from www.timeouttickets.com or by calling toll free 800 4669.