There’s breadth to it in a different way.
Those were the words that Douglas Webster, Artistic Director of the Ice Theatre of New York, left me with before the ITNY’s annual benefit gala last Monday.
We are all familiar with what an ice show is going to bring us. It is usually an exhibition gala after a competition, where skaters perform exhibition numbers, self over solidarity. The skaters, deservedly, are basking in their achievements, and the point of these shows is to celebrate them and bring the competition to a close.
In traveling shows, there might even be a group number or two with some synchronized mohawks and a few side-by-side jumps. You see some hip-shaking, a few underwhelming jumps, maybe a back flip or two, and the occasional thought-through exhibition piece. But you leave the rink and go on with your day, never thinking about the show again.
I’ve been thinking about the ITNY’s benefit gala for a week now. There was nothing run-of-the-mill about what the pieces featured in the gala offered. The show’s primary purpose was to celebrate the great Richard Dwyer, now 76, and his contributions to the world of skating shows. But before he, the Four Seasons, the Celebrity Seasons, and the night’s emcees, Sarah Hughes and Michael Buckley, came out for the on-ice celebration, the focus was on skating.
Seven of the pieces from the ITNY’s home season Time and Space show were on display at the gala. There were two very distinct sections, with five pieces that were cerebrally abstract and the final two, colorful and bombastic, that paid homage to Dwyer’s own showmanship.
Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, the most successful British ice dancers of the past decade, joined U.S. dance team Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, and Line Haddad and Jonathon Hunt, in the first piece, Horizon. It set the tone for the show – no lyrics, decidedly contemporary, ensemble, simple, space, shape.
Under Webster’s direction and choreography, these pieces make the audience reconsider what figure skating is. Outside the competition world of jumps and spins, there remains an art to skating that is often untapped. It was not just effortless flow and glide that were showcased; it was also a reminder that dance and movement can, and should, exist on the ice in tandem.
Perhaps even more conceptual were the two pieces that 1995 U.S. champion Nicole Bobek took part in. The barely-there costumes revealed the form and space that were explored in the choreography.
In Molecular, Bobek was joined by Elisa Angeli and Joel Dear in an unexpected, and certainly jaw-dropping, display of aerial hoop acrobatics. And in Inclusions, the more conceptually interesting of the two, the quartet of Bobek, Dear, Tyrrell Gene, and Andrew Lavrik fused and dissected as an entity, with angularity and asymmetry that evoked contemporary dance.
Of course, when Frank Sinatra started playing, you knew the show had taken a different turn. 2011 U.S. champ Ryan Bradley recalled the bygone era of show skating with a more typical show program, and returned to join a 14-skater finale set to the music from The Artist. And even in this final number, Webster wove in his mastery of ensemble skating.
The packed house watched the gala in the Chelsea Piers East Rink, which was unfortunately ill-equipped for this level of production. A show as artistically experimental deserves to be hosted in a venue that would let the audience appreciate all the intricacies that go into producing it. I do hope ITNY’s future endeavors in New York will get that opportunity.
The pieces in the gala goes back to the basics and transcends them into works that speak to the present. And that’s the breadth that Webster was talking about.
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