Contemporary ice skating in splendid ice-olation

Four figure skaters are going it alone in an attempt to reinvent ice dance, says Lyndsey Winship

Olivier Brajon

‘It’s about dignity,’ says figure skater Taylor Dilley. ‘Fifteen years of intense training and then you get to be a giraffe?’ He’s talking about the job opportunities for ice skaters, which mainly consist of donning furry animal suits for ‘Disney on Ice’ and the like. If you’re lucky you might get to be Pinocchio, he tells me. Or like Olympic gold medallist Toller Cranston, you could become known as the best skating banana on the circuit.

But Dilley and fellow skaters Alexandre Hamel, Samory Ba and Pascale Jodoin have had enough of the sequins and banana suits and have started to take ice dance somewhere it’s never been before: the realm of performance art. It’s the anti-‘Dancing on Ice’.

Olivier Brajon

The French/Canadian quartet go by the name of Le Patin Libre (The Free Skate) and are pioneers of what could well be a new art form, inspired by the Montreal performance scene and groups like Les 7 Doigts de la Main and choreographer Marie Chouinard. They’re stripping out the fakery and showbiz to approach skating in the way you would contemporary circus or dance. They’re playing with narrative, character and emotion but also abstract qualities such as speed, flow, dynamics and stillness, and experimenting with music – ‘the polyrhythms of dubstep are awesome for skating,’ says Hamel.

Their new show, ‘The Rule of Three’, comes to Alexandra Palace Ice Rink in January. But before that, they’re going to introduce audiences to contemporary ice skating in an informal demo at Brixton’s Planet Ice. For those versed in contemporary performance, what Le Patin Libre do might not seem so radical, but in their own scene they haven’t had an easy ride.

‘There’s a really conservative skating culture in Canada,’ says Dilley. ‘You can do hockey or figure skating, but that’s it. It’s competition only.’ Macho ice hockey players often object to men figure skating and Dilley and Hamel tell tales of being regularly beaten up and thrown in trash cans by hockey jocks (yes, that actually happens in real life). ‘In the skating world we’re like extraterrestrials,’ says Ba. Hopefully their performance will be suitably out of this world.