Vertical Influences: Spellbinding contemporary dance and skating spun together

Photo credit: Alicia Clarke

Photo credit: Alicia Clarke

Vancouver’s stand-out contemporary theatre, The Cultch, has added another exciting art form to its theatre season…contemporary ice-skating. Presented by Montreal’s Le Patin Libre, Vertical Influences is a spellbinding two-act show currently heating up the ice at Britannia Ice Rink in East Vancouver.

First of all, you need to understand that this isn’t figure skating. While four of the five performers were elite level figure skaters, this differs from figure skating. That’s because in three of the four figure skating disciplines (men, ladies and pairs), the focus is primarily on jumps, spins and in the case of pairs, overhead lifts. And while that isn’t so much the case in the fourth figure skating discipline, ice dance, its style is still very technical and specific.

Vertical Influences show a very different style of skating altogether. It’s inventive, contemporary choreography performed on skates. According to Le Patin Libre’s artistic director and company member, Alexandre Hamel, this unique style is called Glide. The show’s four performers, Hamel, Pascale Jodoin, Jasmin Boivin, Samory Ba and Taylor Dilley demonstrate this style seamlessly.

Photo credit: Zoe Anne

Photo credit: Zoe Anne

It’s amazing to watch the skaters as they appear to effortlessly fly across the ice. Using different levels with their bodies, feeding off the energy of each other, playing with different speeds and using the ice as a percussive instrument (similar to tap dancing), Vertical Influences uses the ice in new and exciting ways to tell stories.  

Hamel is a gorgeous skater to watch. His lines and positions are breathtaking. Ba has amazing extensions, showcased by the many spirals he does during the show. He also has the ability to do choreography on his toe picks (similar to toe-stands in tap dancing, or dancing en pointe in ballet). Dilley has wonderful facial expressions and Dilley has excellent ice presence. And as the only female, Jodoin brings a beautiful feminine quality to the show. Obviously, she is an outstanding skater – but what drew my eye to her the most was the exquisite use of her upper body. Her arms and upper body movements are SO contemporary dance, it’s absolutely riveting.

Photo credit: Rolline Laporte

Photo credit: Rolline Laporte

The concept of the show is very cool. You get to watch the first act from the ice rink stands. And then for the second act, the entire audience is repositioned to sit at ice level on the side of the ice, where the action gets very up close and personal. While the first act is an exhilarating and dynamic presentation of the skaters moving in percussive collaboration with the music, the second act flows like a dark dream. It reminded me of the “Fugaz” piece presented by Ballet BC in their Program 1 performance earlier this season. There doesn’t appear to be a beginning or end to any of the segments – they blend into one montage of shadows, lights and movement.

I highly recommend checking out Vertical Influences – because chances are, you’ve never seen anything similar to it before. Le Patin Libre has created a stunningly beautiful art form that will command your attention and take your breath away. Just makes sure to dress warm!

The Cultch’s presentation of Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences runs at the Britannia Ice Rink until April 30. For ticket information, visit The Cultch’s website.