Le Patin Libre: Vertical Influences

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Le Patin Libre: Vertical Influences

Le Patin Libre, Vertical Influences, Dance Umbrella, Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, October 29

Le Patin Libre (photo: Rolline Laporte)

Le Patin Libre (photo: Rolline Laporte)

Two hours drive from Teddington should get you well out of London but on this particular Thursday it only got me to Alexandra Palace 15 minutes after the performance of Le Patin Libre started but as some kind soul who was wheeling his fold-up bike on his way to see the Hugging Guru in another part of Alexandra Palace told me, the time you arrive is precisely the time you should arrive. Notwithstanding the wisdom of his statement, I would have liked to see the beginning of Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences because what I saw subsequently was such a revelation.

Here you are on the ringside of this vast arena watching six skaters tracing lines in the ice like exuberant explorers, pushing space in front of them and pulling it behind them like a flock of birds. There is still a sense of the proscenium theatre because we are seated in a cosy rectangle on one side of the rink and the performers play towards us. But otherwise the dynamics of the conventional theatre are blown away by the sheer volume of this space, and also by the dance form. The origins of Le Patin Libre began on the frozen lakes and outdoor rinks of Montreal where ice underlies the national temperament. Every local park in winter has its seasonally constructed ice rink dedicated for the most part to hockey but also to free skating (patin libre). The photograph on the front of Dance Umbrella’s printed program gives you the idea. All but one of the members of Le Patin Libre took to the ice as naturally as we might learn to dribble a ball in the back yard. They then developed their skills in figure-skating competition but found the creative side limited. Alexandre Hamel got together a small group to develop a choreographic form on ice, and the rest, as they say, is icestory.

Back to Alexandra Palace where the skaters are like free spirits in autumn colours (courtesy of Jenn Pocobene) stamping out rhythms on the ice and swooping around the rink chasing each other, Hamel in an orange shirt darting in an out of the group. I am reminded of Paul Klee’s description of his doodle sketches as ‘taking his pencil for a walk’. Taylor Dilley doodles on one leg for long, slow stretches, but for the most part the skaters take their entire shape around the ice at high speed, skating with ballet bravura without having to compete for points. All six skaters have characters that brim with confidence without ever getting haughty about their skills or precious about their choreography; they have removed themselves from the trappings of figure skating and simply dance on ice, drawing the audience into their performance with endearing modesty. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Montreal for so long that the performance touches me deeply, but I felt at Alexandra Palace that I was not alone.

By taking the sport and artistic competition out of skating, Le Patin Libre presents a new dynamic of dance, one that allows shapes to glide and swoop and turn at dizzying speeds. And because the performers need so much space to move, the dance venue has expanded to heroic stature. Alexandra Palace is not exactly beautiful but tracking these dancers as they course around its rink is exhilarating. It is as if our senses grow into the new volume, enlarging our perceptions and expectations. Perhaps this is what Edward Gordon Craig had in mind when he wrote about his vision of theatre having heroic stature. There is much to explore in this new form and it is an inspired co-commission by Dance Umbrella.

After the interval, the ‘front’ has changed from the side to one end of the rink where we are seated on benches on a covered section of the ice. The skaters enter from the furthest point from the audience gliding endlessly towards us in Lucy Carter’s brilliant backlight until they turn effortlessly at the very last, impossible moment to regroup in the distance. In between these long patterns that resemble cloverleaf motorway intersections, the skaters introduce their individual skills in a narrow band of light across the front of the ice. Coming forward again, they stop suddenly in the silence of snow. Jasmin Boivin, doubling as the composer for the group, smiles a wicked smile in front while the others weave down the ice in S-curves and in beautiful counterpoint Boivin skates up the ice as the others race down towards him, splitting around him like water round a pebble. There are quartets, a lovely turning solo by Pascale Jodoin and a superbly articulated riff by Samory Ba with his elongated body in shirt and orange pants that has the syncopated, ice-tapping rhythms of free improvisation. The others join for more gliding patterns at speed, their camaraderie as palpable as their joy of movement.

Driving home was a breeze.