When Le Patin Libre first skated their way into London last year with The Rule Of 3 they brought a contemporary, spangle-free vibe to an artform more often associated with cheesy grins and tiny slithers of sequinned chiffon. With their deliberately pedestrian vocabulary, deceptively effortless unison and high-speed gliding, the Canadian troupe made skating as cool as the ice on which it’s performed.
Vertical Influences, a special commission for Dance Umbrella, returns the group to London as a quintet. The work is more studiedly abstract than their previous outing; instead of Rule Of 3’s character-driven narrative we have a series of formal vignettes with the focus firmly on the body in gliding motion.
There’s a loose theme of tribalism versus individuality; the five begin skating in almost martial formation to a heavy drumbeat that demands synchronicity. One by one, figures from the group break away into solo excursions that are almost always reabsorbed by the group again; the remaining four either fall into unison behind the breakaway soloist, or physically drag him or her back into the group. By the end of the show, the ensemble sections have lost their brutally syndicalist overtones and become a gentler, more graceful union.
Anyone expecting death spirals and triple salchows is likely to be disappointed; Vertical Influences is much more about gliding in elegant interleaving formations, speed-skating in slow motion, and clever footwork in thrillingly precise unison. There are occasional jumps and pirouettes woven into the movement material, and which greatly excited the gentleman seated next to me in the first half, but these are by far the least interesting thing about the performance.
Perhaps the most exciting moments come in the second half; with the audience seated at one end of the ice rink itself, the skaters hurtle towards us out of the blackness at electrifying speed, swerving away at the very last moment. The skaters glide like a well-oiled machine, unblinking as they advance on us, unflinching as they swerve away. It’s a gripping moment that only gains power in repetition.
Long-time company member Pascale Joidin brings an expressive athleticism to her UK debut. Bambi-legged Samory Ba is still the longest-limbed man on ice, a physical attribute used to both daring and comic effect in a second half solo that sees him flinging himself around his own legs and scampering across the rink on all fours. Choreographer Alexandre Hamel suffers from a few Wednesday-night wobbles in the first half, but in the beautifully-polished second half all is well.
With clear movement influences from hip-hop and b-boying as well as circus and dance theatre, Vertical Influences is a fresh, ice-cool take on contemporary figure skating. It’s great to see the troupe back in London, and it’s great to see Dance Umbrella branch out into new venues and new artforms in the name of introducing contemporary choreography to broader audiences. Keep your scorecards at home; this is best enjoyed as a piece of dance theatre that happens to be performed on ice, rather than an ice dance show.
Continues at Alexandra Palace until Friday 31 October (6.30pm & 8.30pm)
Originally published at www.londondance.com