x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The big chill

Peter Pan and Mamma Mia! On Ice, now playing in Dubai, are among the latest family shows to have been made into an ice production.

Go on. Think of a classic, family show that at some point hasn't mutated into an ice production. It's tricky. Old classics are no strangers to the rink: Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty. Grease, Annie and Snoopy have been adapted, too. In recent years, Disney on Ice has been responsible for more modern shows, making unlikely skaters out of characters from films such as The Lion King (no matter that it's set in the tropics), Monsters Inc and Toy Story. Then there was the crazed success of High School Musical, when that, too, hit the ice, first in America and then skittering across the globe.

Ice shows are good, old-fashioned family fun, combining athletic stunts, music and sparkly costumes in a manner that's distinct from musicals, ballet and theatre. Ripe for the holiday season, in other words. How appropriate, then, that as part of this year's Eid celebrations, two ice shows have just opened in Dubai: Peter Pan and Mamma Mia! The latter is a relatively new addition to the ice show fraternity. It's making its GCC debut in Dubai, with shows until December 7 (it previously played in Beirut in July), and it's a spectacle. Forget sunny Greek isles with actors stretching their questionable vocal powers. Mamma Mia! on Ice brings together a cast of Olympic skaters for a two-hour extravaganza. An ice rink has been specially created at the Airport Expo Dubai, and 22 jaunty Abba numbers feature, including Dancing Queen, Super Trouper and Take a Chance on Me.

Not to be outdone, the nearby Arabian Centre in Mirdiff is showing Peter Pan on Ice. The four-year-old show has been brought to Dubai by the British ice theatre company Wild Rose Productions (though the skaters are mostly Russian). The arrival of both shows reflects the increasing appetite across the world for ice entertainment, the origins of which date back nearly a century in New York. In 1915, the ice show Flirting in St Moritz played in the Hippodrome, causing a sensation in the city. It ran for 300 days and inspired the first Hollywood fodder based on skating, The Frozen Warming, which was released in cinemas the following year.

The Norwegian skater and Hollywood actress Sonja Henie helped increase the popularity of ice shows in America with her Hollywood Ice Revue in 1936. The show drew a whole new audience - attracted by Henie's glamour and film career - to skating. The shows Ice Follies and Ice Capades launched within a few years, and audiences flocked to nearby rinks to see the storybook figures. Skating had become a mainstream form of entertainment.

Now, the world's largest ice entertainment business, aptly named Holiday on Ice, has been running for 65 years. It's held performances in more than 600 cites in 80 countries. The ice equivalent of Cirque du Soleil, it has 250 skaters zipping around in a flurry of sequins and feathers in five different shows on three continents. Past shows, such as Aladdin or Spartacus, may sound like unlikely adaptations for ice, but there seems to be no accounting for taste. Most recently, Holiday on Ice has embarked upon a Barry Manilow themed ice show called Tropicana, which premiered in Hamburg last month.

"Each of Barry Manilow's songs is packed with emotion and drama that perfectly matches with the spectacle and beauty of an ice show," said Caspar Gerwe, the managing director of Holiday on Ice. The popularity of such shows is growing internationally as new ones are created. The Disney juggernaut shows no sign of slowing, with the monolith Finding Nemo on Ice currently trailing through America. Four other, older shows are sweeping the country as well.

Holiday on Ice is gearing up to take a new show, Spirit, to the UK next year, and in February, The Imperial Ice Stars (imagine the ice skating equivalent to the Bolshoi Ballet) will perform Cinderella on Ice at London's Royal Albert Hall, marking only the second time that the venue's floor has been frozen. Meanwhile, even those of us in desert climes can enjoy a spot of musical figure skating. You never know. Keep your fingers crossed and we may be blessed with Barry Manilow next.

For ticket details on Peter Pan and Mamma Mia! on Ice, visit www.eidindubai.ae.