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Le Patin Libre on the possibilities of ‘the glide’

Le Patin Libre, who can be seen at Alexandra Palace between 18 and 21 October as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella festival, started as a bunch of slightly rebellious figure skaters who wanted to keep skating, but who were also seeking an alternative to the “On Ice Show Business”. Their first gigs were on frozen ponds, for the small local winter carnivals that are a lively tradition in Quebec. They were young and it smelt like teen spirit – it was all rock soundtracks, acrobatics, funny numbers and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The traditional figure skating system didn’t like to see a bunch of high level skaters stray away from their business and were hostile at first.

The five members of the group bring with them different skating backgrounds and skills. Alexandre Hamel competed in Canada at the senior level in Singles and was three times provincial champion for Quebec. The only women in the group, Pascale Jodoin was a figure skater who during her competitive days disliked having to play the passive role alongside her male partners. With LPL, she is an equal to the men, lifting and pulling with best of them. Samory Ba competed on the national and international stage for France and also had a career as a TV actor! Taylor Dilley is the only member of the squad who trained as an ice dancer and competed nationally in Canada. He is also a Kung-Fu world champion!  Jasmin Boivin was an ice hockey player who went on to skate with the urban style group Free Stylers. Jasmin not only performs on ice hockey skates, but is also the group’s composer.

In 2011 Le Patin were given lots of ice time by a private ice rink owner in France which allowed them to venture in choreographic experiments that were much more advanced than the beginnings on frozen ponds. They started to understand that contemporary skating needed to focus on what makes it unique – the ‘glide’ – when an ice skater travels on the ice in a perfectly held pose, such as an arabesque. It wasn’t long before they began to get support from artistic institutions and to be programmed in arts festivals around the world, including the 2014 Dance Umbrella festival.

The group devise their choreography in a playful and exploratory way. They try things out, playing around with one another’s ideas until they find things that work for them all. In the past choreographers have tried to develop ice skating shows but it is almost impossible for them to grasp the unique nature of the medium without the necessary virtuosity of skaters like Le Patin Libre. It was just dance transferred on ice, and not ice skating developing its own completely new artistic form.

Le Patin Libre add another layer of complexity and integrity into their performances by involving dramaturg Ruth Little who helps integrate meanings and motivations into the choreography. They also work with acclaimed lighting designer Lucy Carter. The haunting and mesmerising music is composed by Jasmin Boivin, when he’s not rehearsing his moves!

It was with Vertical Influences, which premiered in DU2014, that they mastered the form of contemporary ice dancing. Le Patin Libre stopped being influenced by figure skating shows with their sparkles, fireworks, and narrative and instead found the confidence to become, in their words, ‘pure’, focusing on the glide; moving through space whilst perfectly still. The movement speaks for itself, it has no need of embellishments.  The company are now regularly on the road, taking their work to ice rinks around the world with a complex lighting rig and a sound system to counter the lack of any sort of atmosphere in these gigantic frozen gymnasiums. 

The world of figure skating is about obedience and conformity, characterised by cheesy smiles, faux emotion and sequins. Le Patin Libre could not be further from that. We are indeed lucky that a bunch of rebels got themselves together and were able to combine skating virtuosity with freedom and poetry.  

Le Patin Libre
lepatinlibre.com | @lepatinlibre

Le Patin Libre
'Threshold'
Fri 19 - Sun 21 Oct, 6:15 pm & 8:45 pm

Alexandra Palace Ice ink
As part of Dance Umbrella 2018
Info and tickets: danceumbrella.co.uk

This article is adapted by Dance Umbrella, from original interview with Nina Levy for Dance Australia, October 2016.