"Ice: Direct from Russia"

Sometimes, good taste can get in the way of a good time.

The final edition of "Splash," the Riviera's long-running hootfest that hung around way too long, served up "The Phantom of the Opera" on ice and a cute Russian skater twirling hula hoops to a medley of "Mamma Mia!" tunes.

Fast-forward nearly two years to the Riviera's new show, "Ice: Direct from Russia." It too has a hoop twirler, Elena Shpagina, doing essentially the same routine in a sexy outfit, to a moody version of the Gershwin standard "Summertime." It's sleek and sophisticated, but it's still a hoop act. Only this time, we're pretty sure it's not cool to laugh.

This is essentially the same good news/bad news that plagues "Ice" as a whole. A dated "Russian Ice Spectacular" that toured overseas was reinvented for Las Vegas with a classy makeover by Debra Brown, the longtime Cirque du Soleil collaborator who choreographed "O" and "Mystere."

Brown delivered a respectable effort that's a big step up for the Riviera these days. Even the dreary old showroom has been retrofitted with surround sound and video projection equipment.

But in Las Vegas, it's hard to isolate a nice try from its place in the bigger picture. "Ice" echoes with the same "Cirque du Saturation" familiarity as "Le Reve": Not quite different enough to justify itself as a real alternative, beyond its aggressive pricing.

Certainly in no other city would this medium-budget effort have such a problem. But in the larger context of Las Vegas and its big-ticket Cirque du Soleils, the novelty of the frozen staging proves to be a mixed blessing.

Tweaking the running order could help pick up a pace that front-loads the revue with too many languid moments and saves the liveliest stuff for last. Certainly the audience response to Yuriy Abrosimov, who balances himself upon a stack of cylinders and boxes, indicates we could have used this charismatic daredevil much sooner.

The larger problem is more vexing: Doing everything on ice can make you forget everything is done on ice.

The jugglers are on skates. The unicyclists wear skates. The "flying" act, in which Mikhail Myaskov floats ethereally in long swaths of red fabric, is done on skates. Even the trumpet player who tops off some of the recorded tracks is on skates.

Near the end, the skates lend an adrenalin-pumping twist to a teeter-board act, which sends acrobats flying through the air to be caught by the other skaters. Somebody could get seriously sliced by those things.

But the rest of the time, you tend to forget the skating element altogether or notice the danger factor -- watch out for that spinning foot! -- when you're supposed to relax and enjoy the more pastoral displays of aerial acrobatics. It may depend on how close you sit. Regardless, the restricted ice surface limits figure skating as the art form you see in competition or arena tours of champions.

A likeable trio of violin-playing comedians is the only real contact with the audience, but the running joke -- Oleg Danolov trying to address the audience in a fumbling mix of Russian and English -- ultimately doesn't solve the problem of how to break the "fourth wall" with the crowd more often.

"Ice" offers half-price tickets for Clark County residents through June. A $37 ticket for a show this accomplished is more than fair for the Strip these days.

Should you bother? Simple question, but if you've read this far, not a simple answer. How many Cirque shows have you or your children seen? Do you rush to variations such as the horse show "Cavalia" because you can't get enough of the basic aesthetic? Or do you run hard in the other direction?

Sorry to be evasive, but that's life on a frozen patch of ice in the long shadow of the mountain called Cirque.


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