Ice-Savvy Audiences Warm Up to Skaters
There's no fooling skating audiences anymore.
That's one of the lessons Kurt Browning has learned as a professional
Browning, a four-time world champion skater from Canada, is in the
middle of a 60-city tour with Discover Card Stars on Ice, which features
Olympic champions Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and Jayne Torvill
and Christopher Dean.
In a telephone interview from Davenport, Iowa, Browning said
audiences know all of the skaters' programs so well because of the
massive television exposure the sport has received since the 1994 Winter
If you make a mistake, you can't hide it," Browning said, "If you
decide to do a double loop instead of a triple, they know. There's no
Those knowledgeable audiences -- and the prodding and support of the
fellow skaters -- keep the skaters striving to do their best on a hectic
schedule that has performers doing as many as five shows in a row in
five different cities.
"The word 'professional' really comes into play here," he said.
"We're kind of like this roaming family. We all grew up together or at
least saw each other grow up, so we support one another. If you're not
in the mood in the tunnel to go on, and everyone else is, then they get
you ready fast."
While competitive figure skating features only solo and pair
performances, exhibitions like Stars on Ice give skaters a chance to
perform with their peers. Browning said that's one of the things he was
looking forward to when he turned professional in 1994.
Group numbers in Stars on Ice include "Four Women" -- which features
Kristi Yamaguchi, Jill Trenary, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Rosalynn Sumners
skating to recordings by Alanis Morissette, Bernadette Peters and Amanda
Marshall -- and an adaption of a pairs number by Torvill & Dean.
"Christopher Dean did a group number for us," Browning said. "He
took 'Red Hat' and turned it into a group number for Stars on Ice. I
play this devilish character who steals the hat from everyone."
"I've never worked with a prop this much before. Sometimes it works
and sometimes gravity takes over."
For his solo number, Browning skates to a medley of songs by Nat King
Cole in a program that he called "a gift for my wife."
In searching through Cole's recordings for the right songs, he came
across a tune called "Madrid," which is the hometown of his wife, Sonia.
"That gave me the idea to turn it into something for my wife," he
Browning has drawn on the classic pop of the '40s and '50s for
several of his performances, using such standards as "You Must Remember
This" from the movie "Casablanca" and "Singin' in the Rain," in which he
recreated on ice Gene Kelly's classic dance number.
The Kelly number is his personal favorite, in part because of the
incredible job the production staff did in recreating the look of the
film for this television special.
"I was totally inspired by this situation," Browning said. "It was
one of the most incredible skating days of my life."
He said those classic pop numbers are a coincidence rather than a
personal preference, citing his program to The Commodores' "Brick House"
as an example of something different.
The need for something different never has been greater. With
professional competitions, exhibitions like Stars on Ice and
made-for-television events like "The U.S. vs. the World," skaters are
seen more than ever before, and fresh programs always are in demand.
"I'm still trying to get used to a professional career," Browning
said. "One year Kristi added six new numbers. I'm starting in June
this year to work on numbers for next year. I'm going to be trying some
Browning also expects skaters to start picking and choosing more
between the many performing options that are available.
"Two years ago, I assumed there was going to be a bit of a peak in
interest, so I started satying yes to everything because I thought it
was never going to happen again," Browning said. "To be honest, I
didn't expect the requests to keep coming in, but they are."
"Now, I think, we can be more selective. We don't have to say yes to
something because we think it's not going to happen again."