Staging on thin ice

Bringing Las Vegas Ice-skating and illusion in the capital.
Analysis, Content production
The flying rig is custom-designed to link to one point.
The flying rig is custom-designed to link to one point.
A Digico DS digital mixer controlls the audio.
A Digico DS digital mixer controlls the audio.
Fog caused initial concerns - making the ice to appear to be melting.
Fog caused initial concerns - making the ice to appear to be melting.

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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.

The lighting plot was designed by Wheeler Productions and is managed on site by Emiliano Morgia, an Italian lighting designer with over 20 years experience. With no pun intended, Morgia describes the ‘Fantasy On Ice’ production as “the coolest stage I’ve ever lit,” but concedes the ice rink can throw up obstacles. “Compared to a traditional stage this one is very reflective - trying to light the skaters without over exposing has been tough.”

He says he and Wheeler collaborated to programme the cues over two nights. “The show is all time coded and played by Qlab, a really interesting application from Figure 53.”

RedFilo uses Middle East sound, light and video specialist Prolites’ equipment and had a stroke of luck when it came to hiring the kit this time around. “Fortunately, Prolites got a new shipment so we are the first to use all their new equipment,” says Yong. “We’ve got all the new Martins, 200s, both rigged up and on ice level. We’ve also got the Adamson line array speakers, and we’ve gone bigger than we first provided for - to an eight stack instead of a six.”

He says time constraints and the ice rink dictated the set up of the event: “we had to rig everything up first, then we had to bring the ice in, build the ice and then continue with the programming.”

According to Yong, Abu Dhabi Hall at ADNEC is a far more “remarkable” venue than the Zayed Sports City ice rink used in last year’s ‘Magic On Ice’, but it has provided some challenges due to its vast size. “The show is designed to be reasonably small and intimate. We had to do a lot of sectioning off and the LED cyc lights we had to bring up to make the whole place look like it was part of the show,” he explains. “This hall can take up to 6000 but we’ve limited it to not more than 800.”

The show experienced a smooth run with only a few minor glitches along the way, although nothing the audience has been privy to. “We had a problem on the first day, there were 20 of the lights on the floor and they started to melt the ice so after the show we had to insulate the lights and now we turn them on just before the show so that it minimises any melting,” explains Yong.

The fog system also provided some initial concerns, but Yong dismisses this as something that doesn’t affect the performance or ice quality. “The fog settles on the ice and it looks like the ice is melting, but it’s just the fog system, nothing major.”

Steve Wheeler and his team will now move onto a soon-to-be-confirmed European tour, but for RedFilo, a new challenge awaits. Yong says the company are in the final stages of sealing a deal on a very big show in the UAE that will prove “100 times more complex than this one - very technically challenging.”

ON THE MOVE
While Wheeler Productions is based in Las Vegas, its shows ‘Fantasy On Ice’ and predecessor ‘Magic On Ice’ have ventured beyond sin-city, enjoying runs in the UAE, Germany, the US, South Korea and Malaysia. But moving an ice rink along with the sets, technical kit, props and costumes can be a logistical challenge to say the least.

“Each time we’re in the US we’ll put it on a truck and truck it and if we’re somewhere else we’ll send it in four or five containers via sea cargo,” says Wheeler. He admits tight time schedules and potential environmental factors often mean that for international runs, air freight win’s out over more cost-effective sea cargo shipping. “Sometimes we’ll do a split shipment. With the costumes and sets, it’s not good to send it out to the ocean for a long time – it’s exposed to a lot of moisture and temperature variations.“

KIT LIST

Lighting

  • Martin Mac 2000 profile 1200W
  • Martin Mac 2000 wash 1200W
  • Usho Follow sport 2500W with stand and filter head
  • Hog 3 lighting board
  • Avolites main distribution power 400 amp
  • Avolites main distribution power 63 amp
  • Soxapex cable 32 amp 18 pin 2.5cm
  • Power cable 16 amp single phase

Audio

  • Adamson line array Y10 and flying bumper
  • Adamson T-21 Subwoofer
  • Adamsone line array Spektrix W and flying bumper
  • Adamson M-15 floor monitor
  • Digico DS digital mixer
  • Lab.gruppen fp 3400
  • Lab.gruppen fp 6400
  • Handheld U4D wireless microphones
  • Wired vocal microphones
  • Effect rack
  • Denon dual CD player

Special Effects

  • Mono LED Starcloth black drape 5m x 7m
  • Euro truss FD34 square section 30cm x 30cm
  • Rigging tools and accessories
  • Martin magnum 2000 smoke machine
  • Martin Jim ZR/47 haze machine
  • Martin low fog machine

 

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