Cheap tricks on ice: The skating's great, but enough with the vaudeville schtick
||May 1, 1998|
Copyright 1998 Southam Inc.
it just donned skates and Spandex and moved to the nearest arena.
The tour of 13 name skaters led by Kurt Browning offered slapstick
comedy, broad parody, and plenty of dancing girls (and boys) showing
off their taut torsos at the Corel Centre Wednesday night.
But while this mix of kitsch and flash has its moments, it relies
too heavily on a style that might be called Fosse a la fromage -- a
kind of cheesy take on the work of jazz dance master Bob
Fosse. Perhaps it's the natural limitations of skating that drive
choreographers down the road trod by Chippendales dancers, but you've
got to wonder why anyone would take such spectacular athletes and turn
them into a spectacle.
The problem with taking skating out of its natural environment --
competition -- is that it lacks the tension necessary to hold our
attention. With no prize at stake, it's difficult for a display of
tricks to sustain our interest for two hours.
So this crew compensates with some old-fashioned showmanship --
make'em laugh, make'em cry, and give'em a cheap thrill.
Sentimentalists would have loved Ekaterina Gordeeva gliding across
the ice to Nana Mouskouri's saccharine version of Smile. No doubt this
skating savvy crowd of 13,800 was reminded of the sad story of the
former pairs skater whose husband and partner died of a heart attack
Ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz reprised their
medal-losing Riverdance, which prompted the Corel Centre audience to
leap to its feet, stomp and cheer as if to compensate for the judging
fix that denied these two their place on the Olympic podium.
But whose idea was it to court aging baby boomers nostalgia for
stadium rock with Get the Led Out, a little homage to the heavy metal
classics of Led Zeppelin?
According to the program, we can blame choreographer Sandra Bezic,
who is famous for crafting Olympic-winning programs.
What was she thinking with this para-miltary misfire that has the
skaters clad in black leather trousers (the women are in shorts), and
red T-shirts, and punching the air in an open-palmed salute that
suggests they might want to add brown shirts to their wardrobe.
Choreographer Julie Marcotte is also on thin ice when she has
Isabelle Brasseur -- a pairs skater who regularly defies death --
doing some frantic hip waggling that would pop the pelvis of a lesser
And it's not as if we need gimmicks to persuade us to
watch. Brasseur can have us clinging to the edge of our seats as her
partner Lloyd Eisler tosses her, split-legged, over his head, or
twirls her in a somersault. All the while, her tiny, shiny blades are
glinting in the spotlight, reminding us she's wearing lethal weapons
that are just inches away from his skull.
But British skater Steven Cousins was the one most often cast in
the Chippendales role. Performing his own choreography to the Living
Colour song Love Rears Its Ugly Head, Cousins engages in the pelvic
isolations and spastic moves of the worst kind of jazz dancing before
sliding across the ice in the splits. (You could almost hear the
sizzle and see the steam.)
The audience roared for Fun & Games, in which the skaters satirize
their own, poking fun at skating mothers (Jayne Torvill in a fright
wig), unethical judges and ice dancing. The audience loved the
in-jokes delivered by Brian Orser in the role of Swifty, a sports
writer straight out of The Front Page.
They even take a few swipes at some notorious skaters -- one
pleads to the judges over her broken laces. (Which isn't quite fair:
without the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan brouhaha, skating might not
have attracted the kind of mass audience that packed the Corel
These athletes are at their best when they just skate. If Kurt
Browning were a dancer, the way he suspends his jumps mid-air would be
called ballon. Browning is an engaging performer with some of the
charming ham quality that distinguishes Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Skating to Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight, his movements
are all exquisitely defined, and there's a clarity to his footwork
that many a dancer would envy. He seems to carve the space as sharply
as his blades carve the ice.
And few dancers -- on blades or not -- can match the subtlety of
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. More than a decade after they took
the gold medal and changed the face of ice dancing, these two still
tango with a control that makes it hard to believe they do it on ice.
They have always been known for their intricate choreography, but
this flirtatious duet adds a charming sense of whimsy as Torvill tries
to catch the attention of Dean.
He eludes her, elegantly, and is so preoccupied reading the paper
that he trips over a large trunk, and somersaults back onto his blades
with breathtaking precision.