Last Saturday night, the figure skating world was gripped with Skate America fever. Meanwhile, I took a night off from watching competitive figure skating to attend the Ice Theatre of New York show in Boston.
The event took place at the Skating Club of Boston (SCOB). Going to the SCOB rink is always special. So much history! You just think of all the famous skaters who have trained there: Vinson, Albright, Button, Owen, Kerrigan, Wylie, Kirk, Castelli & Shnapir, and now Miner, Gao, and Carriere. Amazing.
The building is an experience itself. Constructed in a “quonset hut” design, it has a classic, retro look. However, the building is 76 years old and in rather desperate need of renovation. Not exactly the most glamorous location for an ice skating show! Seating consisted of old bleachers. And, because it’s a training rink, there was no show lighting. Yet, once the show started, I didn’t even notice the surroundings.
This was my first time seeing Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY). It’s very different from other skating shows, such as Stars on Ice, Champions on Ice, or An Evening with Champions. It’s a small cast (only 12 skaters), and the show features mostly group numbers, performed by different combinations of skaters. It is modeled on a dance company.
The Ice Theatre company includes some well-known skaters: Ryan Bradley, Lynne Kriengkrairut & Logan Giuletti-Schmitt, Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, Jonathon Hunt, and Eve Chalom. Several of these skaters perform solo programs, or solos within group numbers. But they also skate as part of the ensemble, into which they blend seamlessly. The emphasis is definitely on the company as a whole, not the stars; quite different from other skating shows.
The company performed 14 numbers, most of them created by choreographers from the dance/musical (not skating) world. Edward Villella, a famous ballet star of the 1960s/70s, contributed two interesting programs. Villella’s “Reveries,” set to Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite #3 in G Major, is a lyrical ice ballet about an artist’s quest to find his muse. This lovely piece featured 10 skaters in flowing, simple costumes, weaving in intricate patterns over the ice and showing off great edges and flow. The second Villella composition, entitled “Back Bay Shuffle” and set to jazz music by Artie Shaw, is a comic piece about 3 guys out on the town for the night. The program featured Ryan Bradley, Brent Bommentre, and Joel Dear in black tails, and was fun and amusing to watch. It included the guys partnering each other in shoot-the-duck and leap moves.
Two solo numbers were highlights. Erin Reed, a former Nationals competitor, skated a program to “O Mio Babbino Caro.” I don’t think she included any jumps, but it was a lovely performance to this beautiful aria. Interestingly, I had just watched Annabelle Prolss/Roman Blommaert of Germany perform to this music in the Skate America pairs SP. Although Prolss/Blommaert obviously had more technical content, I found myself enjoying Reed’s lovely skate every bit as much, or more.
Ryan Bradley followed up Reed’s solo with a polished performance to Sting’s “Fragile.” This was a restrained but emotional number. Ryan is an interesting skater because he doesn’t have the edges or glide of a Patrick Chan, but what he does have is musicality. He definitely listens to and interprets the music, as opposed to using it as background. I can see why he was invited to join the ITNY company. Ryan performed several triple toe loops, a double axel, and his popular back flip during the show.
In the second half, Alberto Del Saz’s “Inclusions” was a standout program. This piece, set to “Steppe & Passages” by Rene Aubry, explores “the deepest molecular structures of a rock foundation.” How’s that for a different program idea?? The number was performed by Eve Chalom, Logan Giuletti-Schmitt, Joel Dear, and Tyrrell Gene, dressed in matching black pants and tops. There was a lot of sharp, angular movement, which was unusual and interesting.
My favorite program was the finale number, “Roots.” This Appalachian Style Revival piece was set to folk and country music from Mumford and Sons, Audrae Mae, and Jason Castro. It was skated by the entire company, wearing Appalachian-themed costumes (lots of plaid and denim), and was high-spirited and a lot of fun to watch.
The whole show offered a huge contrast to Skate America earlier in the day. A lot of the Skate America programs were very satisfying artistically, such as Kavaguti/Smirnov’s already acclaimed Manfred Symphony LP. But in the end, the focus undeniably remains on elements and points.
In the Ice Theatre show, the entire focus of the programs is beautiful edges and flow and musical interpretation. I loved it, because it was just beautiful skating, plain and simple. My only complaint: I wished the show were longer!
I am glad there’s a place in the skating world for conceptual, innovative choreography and beautiful skating for its own sake–separate from the thrills and stresses of competitive skating. With Ice Theatre, skating takes a step away from competition and moves closer to other performance arts like ballet and Broadway.
I would highly recommend taking the time to see an Ice Theatre show in the future, if you’re in New York or one of the few cities they visit. Their remaining schedule for this year includes three shows in the New York area: http://www.icetheatre.org/events.html.
And imagine if there were other Ice Theatre companies–not just in New York, but cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston–each offering their own seasons. What creative and financial opportunities this might give skaters and choreographers. Not to mention the enjoyment it would provide for skating fans! It’s something to dream about.