Compared to the huge rinks where most ice shows are performed, the skating area for the "The Holiday Ice Spectacular" in the Eldorado Hotel Casino's Showroom looks postage-stamp size. But that doesn't bother Sabrina Crotenko, the show's company and performance director.
Crotenko, who was a member of the Canadian National team before turning professional in 1997, was a principal skater with "Disney on Ice" for nine years and has been with Rand Productions for two years.
"I've never performed in a 'proper' theater before, but I'm OK with skating in a smaller venue because the scenery and backdrops for this show are so impressive for the audience," Crotenko said.
Still, the rink created on the stage, which measures 45-by-30-feet, posed a few problems the skaters quickly learned to deal with, she said.
"There are things you can do to build up speed without having a lot of space to do it in, like jumping up and down (not out) and using your upper body, and, of course, we have to be very focused and conscious of everywhere we step, so we don't trip," she said.
In the days before the show's Nov. 21 opening, the cast practiced every day on a portable ice rink outside the Eldorado. The rink, which was assembled in 48 hours, held 4,000 gallons of water and used refrigeration coil technology and a 64-horsepower chilling unit to keep the ice frozen solid - about 10 degrees.
"We had a little bit more free rein on that ice because it was larger, but we just needed it to get the big numbers set and then once we got into the theater, we set the entrances and exits," Crotenko said.
"Some evenings, it got a little chilly out there, but we had a lot of people who came out to watch us rehearse, and that was fun," she said.
The ice on the main skating surface is real, while the ramps and stairs are plastic ice.
"You have to have very sharp blades to skate on plastic ice because it's a bit sticky, like paint, and you can't get as deep an edge," said Crotenko, who has skated in shows on both surfaces.
"It's a matter of bending your knees and leaning back more with plastic ice, and it's harder on your joints - real ice 'gives' a bit more," she said. "You find that you've developed a whole new set of leg muscles after awhile on plastic ice."
A holiday tone for the show is set from the start, with snowflakes on the curtains, greenery above the stage and, off to the side of the stage, a gingerbread-style cottage in which two of Santa's elves reside.
An announcer admonishes the audience not to feed the reindeer, sugar plum fairies or the elves, and then the show is off on a fast-paced tour of holiday memories with songs such as "Happy Holidays," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Where Are You Christmas?" and "Jingle Bells."
Principal soloist skaters Michael Chack and Melissa Parker and principal adagio team Brianne Delcourt and Gordon Willemse perform lifts, jumps, spins and dangerous-looking death spirals that made some audience members gasp with anxiety during a recent show.
"I was kind of nervous when her head was coming so close to the ice," said audience member Alice Nelson of Sacramento. "I closed my eyes, but then everyone was clapping, so I figured nothing bad happened."
Getting a cold start
Chack, a former U.S. National bronze medalist and a member of the U.S. National and International teams, began skating at the age of 5. Parker, who started skating when she was 6, was a U.S. National collegiate champion and a U.S. National team member.
Both Delcourt and Willemse, who have been partners for two years, were Canadian National team members who initially got into skating to improve their ice-hockey skills. Delcourt ended up making the national pairs team when she was 14 and turned pro at 19. Willemse competed until 2006 on the national team before becoming her partner.
Compared to them, Crotenko was pretty old when she began her real training.
"I started skating when I was 8, but where I lived there wasn't much training that was conducive to competitive skating, and it wasn't until I was 15 that my parents let me move to Alberta, so I could work with an amazing technical coach," she said.
"It's a lot better to start when you're younger and you have no fear factor, so you just throw yourself into it," she said with a laugh.
A highlight of the show for some of the audience was the Nutcracker segment that featured colorful costumes and a surprising choice for Sugar Plum Fairy.
Eight-year-old Sydney Hurly of Reno was seeing the show with her mom, grandmother and great-grandmother.
"I really liked all of the show, but if I had to pick a favorite part, it would be the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy bear," she said after giving the question some thought.
During her skating career, Crotenko has performed around the world for all kinds of audiences.
"I first joined Disney in Japan, and it was so quiet during the performance that I wondered if the audience liked the show. But then after it was over, they gave us hundreds of flowers to show their respect and admiration, so I knew they appreciated us," she said.
"In South America and Puerto Rico they went wild, stomping their feet, and it was insane how much energy was in the building."
So far, she likes Reno audiences just fine.
"This is such a nice, cozy theater, and the response we've gotten has been very, very warm."
After the show, cast members line up outside the theater entrance to sign autographs and mingle with the audience.
"You hear their applause, but it's really fun to get to meet the people who come to the show," Crotenko said.
"It's nice that they want a photo taken with us as a memento or to share a little something about themselves, like this one beautiful woman who said we had made Christmas special for her again after her husband's passing away had taken the joy out of the holidays.
"It touches your heart to have someone confide in you like that," she said.
Zoe Rose is a freelance writer.
|Who: "The Holiday Ice Spectacular"|
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 4
Where: Eldorado Hotel Casino, Showroom
Cost: From $28.95, $23.95 seniors and $19.95 children. Dinner-show packages start at $38.95
"The Holiday Ice Spectacular" is produced and directed by Jeb K. Rand, a former U.S. National figure-skating competitor. Rand and his skating partner and wife, Jennifer, were nationally ranked U.S. pairs figure skaters and featured skaters in the Ice Capades, "Disney on Ice" and the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" in New York City from 1998-2005.
- Michael Chack, principal male soloist
- Melissa Parker, principal female soloist
- Brianne Delcourt and Gordon Willemse, principal adagio team
- Nathan and Lauren Webnar, elves
- Sabrina Crotenko, performance director and skater
- Adam Baadani
- Christie Baca
- Alicia Cavanaugh
- Pamela Coates
- Joel Dear
- Edward Gornik III
- Amanda Merritt
- Windy Rohde
- Misha Sorochinsky