Le Patin Libre, Vertical, Somerset House, January 13, jointly presented by Dance Umbrella and Somerset House
A Dance Umbrella Commission in partnership with National Arts Centre, Canada and Theatre de la Ville, Paris. Research supported by Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells and Dance Umbrella
When I first saw Le Patin Libre at Alexandra Palace in Dance Umbrella’s 2014 festival I arrived late and saw only the latter part of their first half, Influences. The second half was Vertical which is the work Dance Umbrella has brought back to London for a limited run on the skating rink in its front yard at Somerset House. Renegade skaters, cutting edge ice dance performance runs the publicity with a smile. Watch the award-winning Le Patin Libre (they won the Total Theatre & The Place Award for Dance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015) carve the ice, with their signature blend of technical skill and cutting edge style (at the Quebec Delegation reception Emma Gladstone added that the group had also a strain of bloody-mindedness for forging ahead with their project despite criticism and jeering from hockey players and ice dancers at home in Montreal). Their mix of intricate footwork, wit, speed and grace pushes the boundaries of what is physically possible and carries ice-skating performance into the 21st century. There’s certainly some disambiguation to be done to separate the skating of Le Patin Libre from other forms of dancing on ice. Translating the company name — free skating — is true to its origins but doesn’t do justice to the artistic endeavor of the group and ‘artistic free skating’ sounds like an Olympic category. So until some apt description can be found the only way to know what it is they do is to see them perform. They have some work to do as well; while all five (Alexandre Hamel, Taylor Dilley, Jasmin Boivin, Pascale Jodoin and Samory Ba) dress casually (no glitter to be seen) and take care to present their work without the trappings of figure skating, they are not averse to feats of skating virtuosity, as if to reassure us they are former professional skaters. They don’t need to. The articulated solo by Ba, Jodoin’s sensuous spirals and the long, sweeping, swooping, interweaving patterns of the quintet up and down the ice are what mark the originality of Le Patin Libre: understated artistry that could not be achieved without their level of skill.
It’s not just the ice but the space that Le Patin Libre transforms with their art. Seeing what they did at Alexandra Palace was a revelation of sheer volume; at Somerset House the space is, paradoxically for an open-air rink, constrained, perhaps by the monumentality of Sir William Chambers‘ neoclassical architecture with its ice-sugary lighting in shades of blue and pink. By comparison with the performance at Alexandra Palace, Vertical at Somerset House seems more of a sampler, welcome nonetheless and well worth seeing, but not fully representative of what this quintet can do. Their ideas need the freedom and distance of the largest indoor rinks because their lines and speed and dynamics — like a flock of long-legged birds in formation — can best be appreciated on that scale. Although the development of the group originated on outdoor rinks in Montreal, the performers feel more at home navigating at high speed the vast indoor spaces of skating rinks where the theatrical effects (here by Lucy Carter) of lighting and haze, moreover, are not subject to the vagaries of outdoor weather.
Inserted like an unofficial preview into the opening of Vertical (as Alexandre Hamel told me after the performance) are some ideas the company is developing for a new show which hint at a form of minimalism, enhancing the geometry of patterns with the glistening lines of the skaters’ trajectories to expand our sense of space and time. While Vertical and Influences have gone a long way towards creating a new spatial dynamic of dance, this new work has the opportunity to consolidate the form. Perhaps by then it will have a name.
There are eight more performances of Vertical at Somerset House on Friday January 14 at 18h30 and 20h00 and on Saturday and Sunday January 15 & 16 at 18h30, 20h00 and 21h30.
Théâtre de la Ville will be presenting Le Patin Libre in Vertical Influences at the Patinoire de Bercy in Paris from 14 to 17 June.