Even in a sport where presentation is half of the game, how does a company put on an ice show with almost no jumps?
If it’s American Ice Theatre (AIT), it taps into the true choreographic beauty of figure skating in an outside-the-box show called “Let’s Dance!” that took place in Chicago in May.
“Practically the only jumps in the whole show came from Jason (Brown, Olympic team bronze medalist) and Ryan (Bradley, 2011 national champion) at the very end,” said Jodi Porter, AIT founder. “The show stood on its own pure artistic skating. It was a testament of high-quality skating without needing the technical part to succeed.”
Previously based in the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years, and with a program in Utah, Porter started AIT in 2003 and it followed her to the Midwest when she relocated to the Chicago area. A non-profit dance-on-ice company, AIT fuses the technical and compositional aspects of dance with figure skating.
“It was my brainchild,” said Porter, who has an extensive background in skating, dance, and choreography. “I’ve been working on this idea for 20 years, making the connection between dance and skating. There is a huge market in dance that already exists that skating hasn’t tapped into as much as it could. Dance can easily crossover into what we’re already doing and it would benefit our sport.”
With performances from Brown and Bradley, as well as national ice dance medalists Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, international skaters Ashley Clark and Rohene Ward, and 2014 national silver medalist Paige Rydberg, the “Let’s Dance!” production also teamed up with the Young Artists Showcase (YAS), an online international figure skating choreography competition.
“It’s so important for a company like AIT to integrate with YAS choreographers,” said Audrey Weisiger, YAS founder. “The kids have all this creativity, but they don’t have many outlets. This absolutely fulfills a need outside to the restrictions of competitive skating.”
With the “Let’s Dance!” theme, the show incorporated classical, cultural, contemporary, and jazz compositions into a production that went far beyond the average competitive skater’s artistic program.
“This is a time when the ISU is being critiqued about the artistic part of competitive skating,” Porter said. “We’re not just throwing a program together because there is a need for artistic skating; we already have the infrastructure. We are teaching it and doing it and passing it on.”
The teaching and the doing and the passing on have all been made easier with the connection between American Ice Theatre and the Young Artist’s Showcase.
“I feel YAS has gathered up a lot of talent and it’s a goal of mine to get them as many opportunities as possible,” said Weisiger, noting that YAS, now in its fifth year, has also been collaborating with the Ice Theatre of New York. “In the end, every artist just wants their work to be seen.”
The near-capacity crowd at the McFetridge Sports Center was an eager audience for the works of all of the artists - as were the skaters and choreographers themselves.
“It’s so different than traditional competition,” Weisiger said. “At traditional competition, you go in, practice, you do your own thing, you don’t want to hang out and it’s not exactly relaxed. But with this it’s about sharing inspirations and ideas. All of the kids are so enthusiastic and appreciative of each other’s work.”
The enthusiasm has had a ripple effect, as Porter said that there is interest in an encore of “Let’s Dance!,” as well as a push for increased visibility and viability of dance-on-ice.
“There’s no guarantee of a repeat performance, but we’ll keep continuing the education and building a community of artists who have a vision and want to get on board,” Porter said. “There is such a need to facilitate artistry on ice and there are so many possibilities that have been untapped with dance-on-ice but what can be done takes time to develop. With the right support, I would love to see this program continue in Chicago.”
And not just Chicago, but all over the United States.
“My dream would be hundreds of American Ice Theatres across the country where you can go and see an arts-based, professional production in any city,” Porter said. “I would love to see American Ice Theatre gain the prestige of American Ballet Theatre or the Joffrey Ballet. I am always ready to provide the tools to help others in making this dream happen.”
For more information on American Ice Theatre, please go to www.americanicetheatre.org.
For more information on Young Artists Showcase, please go to http://youngartistsshowcase.net.