The family behind the scenes
||Chatelaine, v69 n3 p94(2).|
||The Chrysler Stars On Ice family is gearing up for the Canadian run of its show in Lake Placid in Oct. 1996. With 'family' as one of the major themes of the show, the group has solicited the help of long-time cast and crew who have grown with the group to manage costumes, choreography and lighting.|
Full Text COPYRIGHT Maclean Hunter Ltd. (Canada) 1996
The first time you see Chrysler Stars On Ice, one thing strikes you
immediately: this is no ordinary ice show. Chrysler Stars On Ice is very
different from the ice shows you may have gone to as a kid - all those
production numbers strung together with the odd solo by the guest star skater.
It's not an enactment of a favorite children's fairy tale, nor is it a line-up
of champion skaters simply performing their solos like you might see after a
skating competition. Chrysler Stars On Ice is a combination of all the things
that make going to an ice show a special experience...your favorite skating
stars performing their very best numbers alone, in pairs, in groups and all
together, with an entertaining thematic twist that tells the audience a story.
The Chrysler Stars On Ice Family
It's what goes on behind the scenes, though, that really makes Chrysler Stars
On Ice unique. There's a strong sense of family between the cast members and
the crew. Each one of them says that the show is like their second family, and
that special feeling is clearly evident in the way they skate together and
work together. In fact, this year "family" is one of the main themes of
Chrysler Stars On Ice.
At the head of the Stars On Ice family is Sandra Bezic, a former Canadian
pairs champion who is most famous for her choreographic talents in the
championship performances of such skaters as Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning,
Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano and the Canadian team of Barbara Underhill and
Paul Martini. Cast and crew members credit her creativity and insight for the
huge popularity and success of Chrysler Stars On Ice. "Her talent is very
powerful and very rare," explains associate director Michael Seibert. "She can
instill confidence in skaters and really help them develop their talent. She
also has a unique ability to help skaters find a new direction, to stretch
their potential and grow."
Likewise, Bezic herself has grown. Her role with Chrysler Stars On Ice is
director and co-producer, which ultimately has her in charge of the creative
side of the show. Bezic keeps a close eye on every detail, comparing it to
"trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle." She is constantly changing
gears, from production details to choreography, to costuming, to lighting to
music. While she loves this intense involvement, she realizes that it's also
the hardest part of her job. "I love to wear all the different hats, but
switching in mid-stream constantly, day after day, is difficult," she admits.
To take some of the pressure off, and to achieve the level of performance that
Stars On Ice audiences have come to expect, Bezic has pulled together people
who are the best in their fields from all over North America. She feels that
her close ties to these "unsung heroes of the show" are what makes things
really come together. Most of the creative talent has been with the show for
several years, so close professional and personal relationships have developed
along with Chrysler Stars On Ice.
Creating Moods and Moves
Associate director and choreographer Michael Seibert is back and forth from
his home in New York to Bezic's home in Toronto throughout the year,
developing the next show, and working with individual skaters on their latest
numbers. Along with the help of dance choreographers who help them bring the
latest dance moves to the ice, Bezic and Seibert have choreographed some of
the most interesting, challenging and creative routines in skating today.
While some skaters do bring their own routines with them ("I encourage that; I
find it interesting to see what other people have done," says Bezic), Bezic
and Seibert, along with assistant Lea Ann Miller, choreograph almost every
move in the show.
The creative team of Bezic and Seibert has been together since Bezic
choreographed for Seibert in 1984. After Seibert left amateur skating, Bezic
hired him to assist in the development of the Brian Boitano/Katarina Witt
tour, and later for Chrysler Stars On Ice. "I think we compliment each other
with the different ideas we bring to the table. But we're also very
compatible. We often start with two different ideas, we work through them, and
ultimately we will always strongly agree on the final direction," explains
Dressing It Up
Creating the costumes takes months of intensive work, and this responsibility
belongs to Jef Billings, a Los Angeles-based costume designer. Billings has
been popular among championship skaters for quite some time, but it was only
last year that he added Chrysler Stars On Ice to his roster. For this year's
production, Billings has designed almost all the costumes for the ensemble as
well as the solo numbers, so "it will be more cohesive. By designing all the
individual costumes with the Chrysler Stars On Ice themes in mind, we will
create a more polished look than ever before."
Once the production numbers' (the opening number and the finale) costumes are
designed, Billings "shops the fabrics and starts to build the costumes."
Finishing touches are put on them during fittings at rehearsals in Lake Placid
in the late fall.
The Spin On Music
The music for Chrysler Stars On Ice is a combination of popular music and
original scores. At the centre of it all is music director Marvin Dolgay, a
Toronto-based composer. He met Bezic and Seibert in 1988, and five minutes
after they left his studio they called to offer him the position as music
director for the Boitano/Witt tour. They've been together ever since.
Dolgay's main responsibility is to help choose music for the skaters, then
edit the music to fit the routine. Last year, a medley of Rolling Stones tunes
was edited together for the finale; this year, the finale will be skated to a
Beatles medley. "I also add sound effects, and write new introductions,
transitions and endings to edit into the music," explains Dolgay. Although
Chrysler Stars On Ice has traditionally preferred to use "identifiable" music,
last year Dolgay and his associate Glenn Morley wrote an original score for
the opening number. This year, they have again composed a jazz suite for the
opening of the show.
As his relationship with the Chrysler Stars On Ice family has evolved, he
understands more about finding the right music for each skater. He must be
mindful of the fact that skaters have to vary their style from year to year,
but still consider each skater's unique tastes. "It took me a while to
understand when hearing music that 'That's a Kristi,' or 'That's a Kurt.'
Sandra and Michael's feet are always skating when they're listening to music.
And now, I also understand the music at that level," says Dolgay.
Lighting is one of the final stages, and one of the most important aspects of
the show. "Lighting is critical, because there are no props to help create the
mood," explains Ken Billington, the Chrysler Stars On Ice lighting designer.
"The colors the lights create on the ice must compliment the skaters, the
costumes, as well as the mood of the piece."
It can take up to ten hours to program the lighting for one number into the
main lighting computer, because each of the 140 "moving" lights must be
programmed separately for placement and colour. "And that doesn't include the
ten spotlights," adds Billington, who comes up from New York to join Bezic and
the other crew and cast members in Lake Placid every fall.
Reunion In Lake Placid
When the cast and crew meet in Lake Placid in October, most of them haven't
seen each other since the tour ended the previous spring, so it's a reunion of
sorts. But while it's a chance to renew acquaintances, it's also five weeks of
The solo numbers are complete before the skaters arrive in Lake Placid, but
the ensemble numbers must still be choreographed and taught to the skaters.
The lighting is programmed, costumes are fitted, and the show prepares to go
on the road. David Hoffis, who has for several years traveled with Chrysler
Stars On Ice as production manager, looks after details like loading and
unloading equipment, setting up the lighting rigs, communicating with arena
staff in each city - the day-to-day details. As opening night approaches, the
finishing touches are put on the show.
RELATED ARTICLE: On With The Show!
The tour kicks off in the U.S. after Christmas, and doesn't get to Canada
until early spring. Cast changes mean the show requires a bit of re-working
before the Canadian leg of the tour begins.
While Chrysler Stars On Ice tours Canada next month, Bezic and her team will
be already thinking of ideas for next year. But for this year, the theme is
family - appropriate for a group of skaters and crew members who have, in many
cases, grown up together. As one of the crew aptly put it, "We're all part of
this big Chrysler Stars On Ice family. For the skaters, their strength as
individuals has been enhanced by their close ties to their Chrysler Stars On