A couple of weeks ago I recounted my journey to the Nassau Coliseum and the experience of attending Stars On Ice; I reflected on the kitsch of a poppy ice show and the thrill of seeing Olympians perform in person. Last week (April 29, 2010) I was lucky enough to have an opportunity not only to witness two-time Olympian Johnny Weir deliver a premiere skate, but to experience a totally unexpected genre of figure skating melded with modern dance.
Ice Theatre of New York pushes the boundaries of traditional figure skating, specifically ice dancing; however, this is not the ice dancing with which one familiar from the Olympics, televised figure skating specials and tours such as Stars On Ice. Instead, ITNY approaches the sport as a vehicle for theatrical performance, embracing and emphasizing the artistic side of the figure skating. With such a creative and lyrical focus, it is no wonder that Johnny Weir would be interested in joining the company for a special Opening Night performance.
Over the past several years the top two men in American figure skating have been Evan Lysacek (the reigning Olympic Champion) and Johnny Weir (three-time National Champion), the former characterized as an athletic technician, the latter as a lyrical artist whose ways fared better under the old scoring system versus the new element-based tally. Lysacek has been performing with Stars On Ice, the only remaining national figure skating tour, while Weir has been closed out of such exposure since Champions on Ice folded in 2007 (he skated with that tour from 2004-2007). Instead Weir has appeared at such events as this, and on international tours such as Evgeny Plushenko’s Kings On Ice show in Russia.
Weir performed two exhibition programs for the ITNY opening night extravaganza. His appearance was clearly the marquee event of the show–fans roaring their love from first to last step on the ice. He presented a new program entitled “Heartbroken,” designed specifically to première at the ITNY event, choreographed himself and set to music by Richard Clayderman.
Weir also gave the crowd that for which they had truly come: a new Lady Gaga program. It was “Bad Romance,” there was an undefinable gold sequined shoulder/collar detail, clusters of feathers on his hips and a whole lot of sass. He also threw himself in a completely horizontal knee-slide across the entire ice. Twice. And then popped right back up and continued with the fabulousness. Maybe it was the intimacy of the space (which for ice rink standards is minuscule), maybe it was a reflection of how far away I had been seated for Stars On Ice, but being about 20 feet away from Weir for his jumps and spins gave me a whole new appreciation for the speed that is at stake. I could not attain a single decent photo of him spinning or spiraling– and oh did I try.
But more on Johnny Weir later. Here I would like to reflect of existence of Ice Theatre of New York in conjunction with a pop culture tour like Stars On Ice.
On the one hand, Stars On Ice is traditional and classic–kitsch points and competition style skates combined into an experience of Americana in the tradition of the Ice Capades– whereas ITNY identifies with avant-garde modern dance, pushing away from classic figure skating and resulting in highbrow figure skating performance that brings “classy” rather than “classic” to the table.
According to the organization’s statement, “ITNY’s vision is to bridge the divide between the dance and skating worlds and the organization has done so by commissioning works from renowned dance choreographers including Twyla Tharp, Lar Lubovitch, Peter Martins, Susan Marshall, Ann Carlson and David Parsons; as well as works by noted ice choreographers such as Douglas Webster, Katherine Healy and David Liu.”
ITNY features nontraditional pairings, small and large groups, as well as traditional ice dance couples, such as Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre who skated one pop style piece to “Give Me One Reason,” that might have fit into a Stars On Ice program, as well as participating in less traditional pieces with other company members.
Aside from all the rabid Johnny Weir internet fan girls (of whom there were many and many of whom were actually quite loud and rude regarding the other performers), the whole evening was very enjoyable. It was a delightful blend of dance concepts and figure skating athleticism and technique. There were a variety of interludes throughout the evening that featured a lone skater practicing school figures of increasing difficulty, prompting the audience to reflect on the journey and dedication of figure skaters. It was during these brief moments that a distinct percentage of the audience voiced their boredom and proved an inability to appreciate the beauty and strength inherent in these movements executed by Elisabeth L’Heureux.
The idea of developing skating skills overtime was further explored by a humorous solo piece performed by Kenny Moir who portrayed the evolution from a slip’n’slide disaster on ice to a joyful bona fide figure skater. Moir skated “In A Nutshell” to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and ended the piece by helping another “new” skater take his first steps on ice.
Based on the variety of selection at the ITNY show, ranging from a Renaissance-style group court dance to a three woman interpretation of a Coldplay’s “Fix You” played by a string quartet and a very experimental three woman piece in which the skaters were all connected to each other by thick spandex sheets connected their unitards, providing a dynamic element for movement and manipulation.
I dare you to encounter something that bizarrely challenging at Stars On Ice. On the other hand, Stars On Ice brought performances by favorite Olympian athletes into my life, and I loved that. There is no fair means of comparing the two events with an eye towards determining whether one is better than the other, but if you have any interest in figure skating and you have the opportunity to experience such diverse modes of presenting this favored obscure winter sport, I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity– it will bring a whole new level to your understanding and appreciation of figure skating and the endless possibilities inherent in the form.
Ice Theater of New York has a regular annual season, in addition to tours outside of New York city, special singular events and international appearances.
For additional pictures, see my ITNY 2010 Opening Night gallery.