This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Free Skate

Le Patin Libre (“the Free Skate”) is a group of five high-level ice skaters eschewing the sparkles, and creating something akin to contemporary dance on ice. Their double bill “Vertical Influences” was brought to Toronto as part of this year's Luminato arts festival, directed by Josephine Ridge who discovered the troupe in the south of France. “It was a pinch-me moment,” Ridge writes for Luminato, “Here is young group of surprising, exceptionally talented and entirely original artists.”

Performance

Le Patin Libre: “Vertical Influences”

Place

Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre, Toronto, Ontario, June 23, 2017

Words

Penelope Ford

Le Patin Libre perform “Vertical Influences.” Photograph by Alice Clark

subscribe to the latest in dance


“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

Based in Montreal, the collective was founded in 2005 by former Olympic hopeful Alexandre Hamel, who hails from “a perfect little suburb” in Québec. Hamel was a child figure skating champion, who went on to competition circuits, ultimately being hired by Disney for ice shows. In the post-performance discussion, Hamel describes his relationship with ice-skating as a “trauma”—something many a bunhead burnout might empathise with—and it is these experiences that inform “Influences,” the first half of the bill.

The other members of the group, Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, and Taylor Dilley, share similar backgrounds—prodigiously talented skaters turned off by the limitations of traditional competitive skating. They describe themselves as free spirits, and connected to one another via the underground skate scene, with ice-rinks being turned into speakeasies where the ice was set on fire. DJ-ing at the “secret ice burning parties” was the only non-skater of the group, Jasmin Boivin, a classical cellist who composes and creates the score for the performance. Not content to sit on the sidelines, he learned to skate while watching the others, and now dons hockey skates and joins le Patin Libre on the ice.

On the evening I attended, due to technical difficulties, the show was performed without the lighting. I could only imagine how they might glide out of the darkness, but as it was, the show had a rehearsal feel to it. It fit, in a way: Le Patin Libre wear practice gear, and stylish, casual clothes—their aim is to deprive skating of its ‘tacky’ elements and let the essence of skating come to the fore. Which is what, exactly? What defines skating? Le Patin Libre propose that it is the glide: “a movement without movement.” Hamel says, “it's what is left when you take all the sparkles, all the other things away. Dancers can't to this,” he says, standing on the blades and gently drifting towards the audience, seemingly without moving a muscle.

Both pieces on the bill explore and expose the theory of the glide in a multitude of choreographic ways, taking the inner and outer edge of the skate to extremes, weaving and cutting through the group in a single, satisfying swoosh. They do it through a decided lack of airborne elements, but when they do execute a flying spin, it's fluid, loose and marvellous. The performance does have the feeling of an amplified contemporary dance; you don't see position so much as you see momentum, inertia, the freedom of the glide. They invoke the quality of ice, too; the substance and the sound of it, clashing and picking their skates rhythmically into it.

“Influences” taps their story as renegade skaters, people with different ideas running up against the institution of traditional skating. The pieces were launched via the Jerwood Project creative programme and a residency at Sadler's Wells, London, and with the aid of dramaturg Ruth Little, found their current expression. The second half, “Vertical,” is more a joyful exegesis of where they have come to as a collective, and where they want to go. Which is to make a serious contribution to choreography, not only on ice, and to push the form into new artistic modes.

Hamel says he understands when they encounter resistance from the contemporary art world to accept their new form; ice skating has become “gimmicky” in recent years, he says. But le Patin Libre is far from a gimmick; it's an expansion, and a departure from the superficial reason to skate. To dancers, skaters and contemporary art lovers, le Patin Libre is offering something truly original. After the performance the troupe hosted a free DJ skate party inviting all to join them on the ice. Now that's cool.

Penelope Ford


Penelope is the founding editor of Fjord Review, international magazine of dance and ballet. Penelope graduated from Law and Arts with majors in philosophy and languages from the University of Melbourne, Australia, before turning to the world of dance. She lives in Italy.

comments

Featured

Futur(istic) Classic
INTERVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

Futur(istic) Classic

The son of a painter and a set designer, director/choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot was, it seems, destined to have a life in the theater. Born and raised in Tours, in central France, in 1960, he studied dance and piano at the Conservatoire Nacional de Région de Tours before joining the Rosella Hightower International School of Dance in Cannes.

Continue Reading
A Golden Gift
REVIEWS | Karen Greenspan

A Golden Gift

As Belgian choreographer and dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker approached her sixtieth birthday in 2019, she decided to gift herself a solo to the music of one of her favorite partners—Johann Sebastian Bach.

Continue Reading
Acts of Defiance
REVIEWS | Victoria Looseleaf

Acts of Defiance

One would think that a dance inspired by the events of the January 6 insurrection—yes, a dance!—would not be the ideal stuff of theater, but the eight members of Laurie Sefton Creates (formerly Clairobscur Dance Company), succeeded in giving life to Sefton’s premiere “Herd. Person?”, while the dance, itself, was occasionally problematic.

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency