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Staging on thin ice

by Brooke Sever on Aug 9, 2010

The flying rig is custom-designed to link to one point.
The flying rig is custom-designed to link to one point.
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The ‘Summer in Abu Dhabi’ festival is keeping cool with Wheeler Productions’ spectacular ice skating and magic show ‘Fantasy On Ice’, which is staged on a huge portable ice rink.

After 10 months of pre-production work, international performance art creator Steve Wheeler’s latest vision, ‘Fantasy On Ice’, came to life at ADNEC last month during a 12 night run. The 60-minute show combines magic illusions and ice skating and is staged on a 400 sq metre portable ice rink, the first of its kind to be used in the Middle East.

Wheeler, the executive producer and president of US-based Wheeler Productions, previously staged his show ‘Magic On Ice’ at Zayed Sports City in 2009 and says this year’s show is a even more visually spectacular.

“What makes this show so unique is that we have added another dimension to the performance. In addition to using the specially-created ice rink as our stage, we are also going vertical, with performers playing out their roles suspended high above the audience,” he says.

Behind the show, as well as Abu Dhabi’s entire ‘Summer in Abu Dhabi’ festival, is Singaporean event management company RedFilo, headed in the UAE by director of event operations, Kelvin Yong.

“Eighteen of us fly in from Singapore – we’ve got six malls going at the same time for six weeks as part of the festival. As well as the team of 18 we’ve got a huge team of 75 local part timers who help us too,” he says.

The ‘Fantasy On Ice’ show is truly an international production - in addition as 14 performers from nine different countries, the show has been designed in the US in consultation with RedFilo in Singapore and the ice rink is the brainchild of Berlin-based Ice Business.

“Our production team is in the US, in Las Vegas, so in the pre-production stages when we’re designing everything, when we’re coming up with the ideas, our builders and technicians are all there,” says Wheeler. Yong says the planning is a team effort: “Steve’s got a team he works with and then he shared with us what he wanted to do and we made a couple of changes and then we put together the show.”

The most technically unusual element of the event, the ice, is something Wheeler is used to working with, having done similar shows for almost 30 years. “This [ice rink] came from Germany; from a company we worked with when we had a show in Berlin for a year.”

Yong says they made the decision to use the Ice Business rink due to its energy efficiency, proximity to the Middle East and durability. “It uses eco-friendly, new aluminium foil technology so it can build ice in half a day - and its real ice.”

Due to a booking at ADNEC’s Abu Dhabi Hall by the Lord of the Dance show, the rink had to be assembled elsewhere to allow for two weeks of rehearsals and then reassembled in the hall just days before opening night. The end of the run will also see a rush to melt it – by turning up the chillers and spraying with water before draining it – as there is only a two and a half day gap before the hall hosts the next event, the Big Apple Circus.

Ice Business offsets the power consumption to maintain the freezing temperatures of the rink via green-energy producing windmill-powered plants in Europe. The ice is developed in a five layer process and is 70 millimetres thick and ready to skate on within 18 to 24 hours. Featured during the show is a dazzling ‘ring of fire’ effect on the ice which Yong says was created using Coleman fuel, which allows burning in sub-zero conditions.

Maintenance is key to ensure a smooth and even ice surface for the performers and is done twice daily the hard way – manually - as a zamboni cannot be used.

Adding another dimension are the aerial performances, which are achieved using a specially designed flying rig by the world-famous ‘Flying by Foy’ team. The ‘Flying by Foy’ system is now considered an industry standard almost 60 years after Peter Foy developed an earlier version for a Broadway staging of Peter Pan. The rig was flown in from Vegas with flying director Bradley Allen overseeing its set up in Abu Dhabi before the show opened.

“It’s designed to be linked from one point and there are no harnesses - just straps,” says Yong. “There’s a part in the second half of the show, an aero-acrobatic duet, where there are no safety wires. It has risks, sure, but this is their [the performers] speciality, they practice a lot and this is what they do. They’re professionals.”

ADNEC’s in-house audio system was used, but according to Wheeler, it’s the lighting effects that take precedence in this type of show. “The lighting is much more integral as it’s so visual,” he explains. “In this particular show we’re using all Martin lights – the package is 60 moving lights, we’ve got 30 wash 30s, spots; but it does change for each production depending on the ice size and the venue. Some of the venues we’ve done have their own system, sometimes we’ve augmented our system with theirs, so it’s different in each situation,” says Wheeler.


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