“You’re about to see two pieces,” says the announcer before the show starts. “The first is called Influences. The second is called Vertical.” And so opens Vertical Influences, a show that snatches up everything you ever thought about dancing on ice-skates, shakes it down, throws in a giant dollop of urban cool and leaves you a little chillier but eager for more.
Le Patin Libre have hot footed it here from Montreal. They describe themselves as contemporary ice-skaters (except in French so it sounds sexier). The company was founded in 2005 by ex figure skaters to explore ice dance with a more irreverent style. The result is an incredible combination of ice dance, street dance, Stomp (without the oil drums), circus and an athleticism that seems to defy the laws of physics. They pride themselves on their “glide”, which is exactly as it sounds, but has to be seen to be believed. Formation gliding sounds infinitely less dynamic than say, synchronised swimming, but when you’ve seen five performers sliding across the ice in perfect harmony, apparently doing nothing but somehow propelling themselves forward, you may wish to revise your opinion.
For their latest show, they were keen to continue to extend the scope of their performance, so rather than collaborating with a choreographer, they worked with dramaturg Ruth Little to develop their storytelling. Influences is a fun piece that must be inspired by the formality of competitive ice dance. The skaters move in perfect unison until Alexandre Hamel makes a rogue bid for freedom. His cheeky playful personality sees him circling, slicing through the other skaters’ rigid formation, daring them to be different, a beautiful contrast to the chilly composure of traditional ice dance.
For Vertical, the audience are invited down to sit on the ice (on cushions and benches). Proximity gives this piece its power as the performers speed towards us, veering away at the eleventh hour but not quite in time to avoid showering us with tiny shavings of ice. Pascale Jodoin is the only woman in the group and performs a thrilling sequence of dizzying spins. Samory Ba‘s long limbed elegance is so at home here that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s doing his tricks, toe digs and jumps on the cobbles of the Royal Mile rather than in the centre of a sheet of ice.
The soundtrack for the show is composed by skater and the company’s Musical Director, Jasmin Boivin and is a perfect counterpoint to each piece. Boivin gives free rein to the percussion created by the skaters’ boots – the glide, the rasp, the occasional toe digs into the ice all beautifully punctuate the music, giving the performance an almost hypnotic quality.