Ice Age: Creating a mammoth show

BRINGING three woolly mammoths to life on stage - and on the ice - is no easy task. Just ask Michael Curry.

The world-renowned visual and conceptual designer, who has worked for companies including Cirque du Soleil, spent 18 months working on achieving just that in his role as character designer for the arena production, Ice Age Live! A Mammoth Adventure.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

Based on the hit 2002 animated film Ice Age, the show is touring Australia for the first time in 2016, kicking off in Newcastle on March 25 before moving on to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

Curry's expertise in design is the crowning jewel of the show, which is performed on ice and features giant animal puppets - and tiny ones too.

"We really tried to find a way to recreate the characters from the movie as closely as possible," Curry says.

"Sometimes I say, 'We're just going to take a lot of artistic licence', but the movie was such a perfect family of characters that we tried to emulate, as close as possible, everything including the scale of the characters.

"So, Manny and Ellie as the mammoths had to be huge. They're really the size they would be in the film."

The 70-kilogram mammoths are among the characters brought to life in the visually spectacular show which also incorporates acrobats, aerial arts and ice-skating dance numbers.

And it's the type of show that adults can appreciate too.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

The cast from the film Ice Age is here again, but the creators of the show have added a few extras for bite.

Ice Age Live! A Mammoth Adventure is directed by Guy Caron, who is the brains behind the Cirque du Soleil productions Ka and Dralion.

"The show has a wider scope of audience appeal to adults and teens, not just kids," says Curry, who has worked on five Cirque du Soleil productions and won three Emmy awards for his work on the 2002 and 1996 Olympic ceremonies.

"Our team all met at Cirque de Soleil, so our sensibility is of that of an avant-garde circus and therefore we treated the story more adult.

"But if you do a really good adult story that has these characters, the kids totally get into it."

The production had its world premiere at Wembley Arena in London in 2012 and has since toured across the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

Curry describes the show as a "new format" of entertainment.

"We were looking for a real different kind of show," Curry says.

"We knew we already had Disney On Ice and the Disney films, Pixar films ... we wanted to find a unique and a real sensory experience to treat this show with, so it really is equal parts music, circus, ice athletics, scenery, magic, puppetry and characters.

"It's pretty broad - I think the thing that people are most surprised by is the breadth of the visual spectacle and the quality of the music, how taken they are with the music."

The production is based on the much-loved film but features a new, original storyline, along with the addition of new characters.

"When you do something on stage, you want to bring something new and peculiar to the stage, so we designed these other characters," Curry says.

"There wasn't enough conflict in our story - we needed a chase, we needed a journey, we needed bad guys, so we developed the eagle and the bird henchman.

"That was really fun to take a movie that was really famous with its characters and be able to add our own characters."

Curry, a former sculptor and artist, has won many accolades for his puppet and costume work.

His company, Michael Curry Designs, has created work for everything from Broadway to pop shows, including puppet co-design for the acclaimed musical The Lion King to the elaborate, oversized lion that pop star Katy Perry rode during her performance at this year's Superbowl.

Although the show is performed mostly on ice, Curry says it was important to take it off the ice as well.

"We expressly wanted to enrich the ice-skating experience by having, basically, things not on the ice. So that's where the aerial and the circus and the choreography came in.

"Jacques Heim, our choreographer, is one of the best avant-garde choreographers in the US and he developed a really rich vocabulary of movement that blended seamlessly with what would be traditional ice skating, with tricks and double saltos and all that stuff, but performed by a squirrel.

"That's the funny part - you're a possum or a squirrel but you're doing these Olympic-level skating tricks.

"Adults love this show but the kids are transported. They do forget that it's fake and I love that. It's one of my favourite things in theatre.

"My real challenge and goal is to make adults forget that it's fake. We get there once in a while."

Ice Age Live! A Mammoth Adventure appears at Newcastle Entertainment Centre from March 25 to 27. Tickets on sale from 9am on October 30 through Ticketek.