Ice Theatre of New York 1999 Home Show

Last weekend I caught the Saturday night performance of the Ice Theatre of New York's annual Home Show. I've got to say that the ITNY's shows have become a real highlight of the season for me -- it's such a relief to see some genuine creativity amid the relentless commercialism that skating has turned into in recent years.

This year's show opened with "Magic Forest", an ensemble piece choreographed by Doug Webster to some new-age-sounding music listed in the program as being by Brian Keane. At this point I was still trying to identify everyone in the cast but I think the featured skater was Susan Pereira -- she carried a big pink scarf. There were 8 skaters total in this piece and they worked in various subgroups, initially as 3 pairs plus two women and later in a 3-2-2-1 grouping and then two groups of 4.

Emanuel Sandhu, one of the guest skaters at the show, skated his Kamasutra short program, which I had heard about but never seen before. He opened with a triple axel/triple toe and a death drop, then fell on what I think was a triple flip, did a triple toe, circular footwork, and a spin combination with his signature "A" spin that got a lot of applause. Emanuel rotates so fast in the air that I wasn't sure if at least one of the jumps he did might have been a quad. I am also pleased to see that he is skating with a lot more speed than the last time I saw him (1998 Worlds).

Evgenia Shishkova & Vadim Naumov, more guests, did the same Secret Garden program they did at Fire on Ice, that was listed in the program as "Nocturne". It opens with a lot of adagio stuff, then they did a throw triple toe loop (big gasp from the crowd), a kind of pivot into a death spiral, and a 1-hand overhead lift.

The next piece was an ensemble listed as "Heart", for four skaters -- two men and two women -- dressed in coordinating black outfits, choreographed by JoAnna Mendl Shaw to some music with a heavy beat. I didn't think there was a heck of a lot to the ensemble work in this number, as the four skaters mostly just skated in unison in a block formation although there were a few places where they did dance lifts as two pairs, or when one skater would break off briefly from the other three.

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky skated their original dance from the past season, "Tym Balalaika" -- a Yiddish waltz. I thought the costumes were a bit distracting (Galit was wearing a long dress with fur trim around the hem that flapped a lot, and Sergei also had flappy stuff on his outfit) but they did a nice job with interpreting the character of their music. The only particular thing I remember about the choreography was a big swoopy choctaw in one corner.

Katherine Healy was up next. Poor woman! First she was interrupted as she was taking up her opening pose because someone had thrown flowers on the ice for Galit & Sergei, and then they started the wrong music not just once but *twice*! Eventually she skated to "Raymonda", wearing a lacy ivory dress and matching tights. My notes on the program say double loop, double salchow, double flip/double loop, layback spin combination, double loop/double loop, flying camel, split/split/double flip with a hand down, outside spread eagle, back spiral with a 180-degree split, an axel with no speed, another back sprial, and a fast scratch spin. She is also skating with decent speed now, and seems to be a lot more secure on her edges than when she did that first TV appearance a year or two ago. The jumps are low and she has a bad wrap, but that's obviously not what her skating is supposed to be about.

The next piece was the real highlight of the show: "Transitions", choreographed by Doug Webster to music by Philip Glass. This piece was conceived as a tribute to skaters who have died of AIDS. It featured Chris Nolan as the soloist in a role that was both physically and emotionally demanding -- this was a long piece, he didn't get much opportunity to rest, and it was all very intense. I was impressed by his acting ability as well as his skating ability. The other skaters in the ensemble were Lisa Bell, Yuriy Chesnichenko, Yaroslava Nechaeva, Susan Pereira, and Doug Webster. The piece was structured in four sections:

After this, it was Zamboni break time. The second half opened with "Cabaret Manana", a relatively fluffy ensemble piece featuring gaudy costuming. Yaroslava Nechaeva was wearing blue feathered headgear, while Susan Pereira and Lisa Bell were identically dressed bright orange wigs and black nighties that showed a lot of cleavage. This piece was also in several sections, with a mix of latin/jazz music including strange arrangements of "Night and Day" (for Yuroslava and Yuriy) and Debussy's "Reverie" (Tian Yi Zhang). Choreography again by Doug Webster.

David Liu skated a solo piece next, "Deflecting Demons". The music was vaguely rock. My notes say he did triple flip, flying camel, double salchow, change camel, axel, and a "cool spin". I'm afraid I got rather distracted by costumes again and didn't get a good sense of the choreography -- his outfit looked like it was made of sheer black mesh over white fabric, with various slits cut in the mesh so that the white would show through.

Evgenia Shishkova & Vadim Naumov skated their old "Figaro" program for their second number. I don't think most of the people in the audience were very familiar with them, as their flip-up lift drew a lot of ooohs and aaaahs and everyone seemed surprised when Vadim did the back flip.

Next up was "A Conversation with Angels", a trio piece skated by Doug Webster with Susan Pereira and Tian Yi Zhang as the angels. The angels wore white unitards with ruffled pants and a kind of cape attached to the arms -- it looked like the skaters were holding sticks underneath to extend the line of their arms. The choreography was by JoAnna Mendl Shaw and featured a lot of swooping moves and spread eagles. It started out with the angels mostly doing the swooping stuff around Doug but developed into the three of them skating in unison and Doug partnering the angels through some dance lifts. The whole thing was very floaty and ethereal.

Emanuel Sandhu was up next. I'm not sure if he'd ever seen the program Doug Mattis did, where he did imitations of various skaters before finally deciding to just be himself, but this was the same idea. Emanuel came out wearing a flashy purple coat with red piping and a gigantic collar, cuffs, and stiff tails beaded with blue on the facings. (Perhaps he was trying to imitate Alexei Urmanov?) He skated around a bit and did some spirals and such while the voice-over explained the process of choosing music wasn't easy. Then he replaced the gaudy jacket with a plain black one (pulled out of a suitcase) and did a bit of a Piazzola tango with a triple toe/double toe combination. After that he took the jacket off and put on a hat and did a Scott Hamilton comedy bit with lots of fast footwork, put the hat on backwards and skated to some funky music, and then it was like, "What I am doing? Maybe I should just trust my feelings" and he skated to an Andrea Bocelli song. More spirals and spread eagles, double axel, triple flip, and a layback spin.

Next Chika Maruta skated "Sketches", a solo work choreographed by Moira North with original music by Cam Millar. According to the program notes, the music is supposed to be inspired by the life of Rodin. It was fairly mellow stuff with spoken text quoting Victor Hugo. Meanwhile, Chika was wearing a 1-legged harem outfit that I think was supposed to represent the Cambodian dancers that visited France and had some influence on Rodin -- or at least the program notes mentioned Cambodian dancers. I wouldn't have been able to make a connection to either Rodin or Cambodian dancers just by watching the skating. Chika is very flexible and the program showed off her extension on spirals and included a Biellmann spin. There was also a section skated mostly on two feet that included a lot of twisting movements, and she did a somewhat scary-looking axel.

The final piece on the program was another ensemble, "Tango Images". This one was choreographed by Peter di Falco, who is a well-known tango instructor and choreographer from the non-ice dance world. Something I observed about this piece is that all the skating was concentrated at center ice; I don't know if that's because the piece was originally intended for a smaller ice surface or if di Falco just had difficulty figuring out how to fill up the entire surface. (I've noticed in past years that some of the other pieces by non-skating choreographers that the ITNY has performed have also been pretty simplistic in use of the ice surface, with lots of circling around center ice, etc.) Anyway, while the skaters were doing a lot of complicated steps, they didn't really build up much speed or cover a lot of ice in the process.

This piece was also in several sections. The first one was an ensemble with Chris Nolan, Doug Webster, Jessica Randall, and Tian Yi Zhang doing most of the skating in couples while Judy Blumberg directed them, acting out a dominatrix-like role. Then Chris and Doug skated a male/male tango together and then to give equal time to the women, Lisa Bell and Susan Pereira danced together as well. I'm sure the idea of same-sex dance couples would give the ISU the heebie-jeebies, but this was wonderful dancing and it was all very much in character with the music. Next there was a section where Judy and Doug danced together. Very complex steps, but not a great deal of speed. In the last segment, Chris Nolan skated a solo section, and then the entire group skated as two couples and the three women solo.

Finally, one bit of very good news: people outside of the New York area will get a chance to see the ITNY on TV this year! Doug Webster choreographed two new pieces for the group that were filmed for Rahkamo & Kokko's "Winter Solstice" TV special that is going to be shown on A&E in November.

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