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Choreographer Bezic is the key figure behind skating's Stars On Ice

Working out a routine on ice is nothing like doing it for conventional dancers, says star-maker Sandra Bezic.

Source: Vancouver Sun
Date: April 26, 1996
Author: Michael Scott

It is a measure of Sandra Bezic's fame that when a major Canadian bank went looking for famous people to endorse its services last year, she was one of the stars it chose.

Her name and face may not be immediately recognizable, but her work regularly makes front-page headlines.

Bezic is the artistic force behind a large number of the world's best figure skaters. Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano and many others have Bezic to thank for the skating programs that win them Olympic and world championship medals.

Bezic has parlayed her high standing as a competition choreographer into superstar status in the big-money world of professional ice shows. The Chrysler Stars On Ice, the fifth travelling ice show to pass through Vancouver in the last six months, is in large part Bezic's work. As director and co-producer of the show (April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at General Motors Place), she plays den mother to a company of 12 highly motivated highly individual skaters on a 68-city slog across North America.

"What we're aiming for here is to combine the technical level of a long program [in amateur competition] with theatrical lighting and staging," Bezic says in the hectic days before the opening of the company's Canadian tour. "In a way, we're like the Cirque de Soleil. I'm trying to present these skaters in their best possible light."

Although she is increasingly famous for her non-competition choreography (she won a Gemini last year for her work with Kurt Browning in his Casablanca take off, You Must Remember This) Bezic is uncomfortable with comparisons to off-ice dancing.

"My work as a choreographer is very different from the traditional dance world," she says.

"In the dance world, you're working to get a number of dancers moving as an ensemble. When you make a show on ice, you're trying to make a vehicle for a group of individuals with very different talents.

"It's a star system, let's face it."

Bezic's stars rise up through the world of competition skating: there are no world-famous skaters who haven't made it to the Olympics. "When a Kurt Browning or a Kristi Yamaguchi or a Scott Hamilton or anyone else of that calibre reaches an Olympic goal, it's because they have worked alone," she explains. "They've never had to learn to work in ensemble."

Bezic's challenge is to get these skaters, and fellow stars Brian Orser, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Josee Chouinard, Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov and Christine Hough and Doug Ladret working together.

The schedule is tortuous: for the Canadian leg of the tour, there were only three days of rehearsal. Bezic, and her choreographic assistant Michael Seibert, barely have time to get everyone fitted for the necessary costumes.

"It would really be impossible for me to get my gang precise enough to skate in close formation, or to skate the patterns that precision skaters can do.

"So we concentrate on letting the individal skater's personality come through."

Perhaps the most telling example of this is a second-act number entitled Morning. The short work, set to music by Edvard Grieg, features Russian pairs champion Ekaterina Gordeeva, whose husband and long-time partner, Sergei Grinkov, died of a heart attack last November. (Bezic directed an emotional tribute to Grinkov in February in Hartford, Conn).

"This piece isn't the same as Hartford," says Bezic, who had a successful pairs skating career herself, with her brother Val Bezic. "This is different. Ekaterina's piece is not about Sergei. It's about hope, about looking forward. I hope the audience feels that and supports her."

Bezic has been producing Stars on Ice for four years, and has seen figure skating skyrocket in terms of spectator interest.

"Skating is going through the roof," she says. "I've already been so busy for the last 10 years I sometimes wondered where I was going to find enough time to get through things. And now it's gotten even crazier.

"I'm still scratching the surface in television. That's definitely an area I'd like to explore further.

"But all of us are learning how to say no."