A collaboration between Balbir Singh and champion figure skater Gary Beacom sees artistic sparks fly as two creative mavericks discover a synergy on the ice.

The art of figure skating has undergone dramatic changes over recent decades. In many ways, its artistic dimension has been subsumed to the point where it is seen by many as a ‘lost art’, especially when today’s competitive routines are compared to the aesthetic approach of the past.

Figure skating’s aesthetic tradition stretches back to the late nineteenth century and was hugely influenced by Jackson Haines, an American. Haines was the first skater to incorporate ballet and dance movements into his skating. Though opposed by both his American colleagues as well as skaters from Victorian England, Haines continued to add new dance elements to his routines, and astounded a crowd in Vienna in the winter of 1868. Many in the audience expressed wonder at how a normal man could move over the ice in such a manner.

Figure skating today would be unrecognisable to Haines, as successive generations have steered ever further from the artisitc towards a highly structured competitive sporting activity.

Yet the pioneering spirit of Haines is not entirely lost. Today, Gary Beacom is renowned for the artistic and creative originality of his performance style. Exciting to watch and with a fearless passion to skate in his own way, Gary’s approach is surely one that would have been recognised by Jackson Haines.

As Beacom points out: “What you see out there now is all straight lines and two-footed skating. And a lot of jumps. We’re seeing a lot of quads and the girls are doing all triples now. It’s really quite remarkable what they do, stamina-wise and technique-wise. But skating has lost its beauty and charm in my view.”

Beacom’s performances have beauty and charm in spades. His programmes have ranged from improvisations to intricately choreographed one-of-a-kind pieces that have featured skates on his hands, complex compulsory figures, bird calls, headstands and just about everything else you could possibly imagine.

Working with Balbir Singh has been an ideal collaboration for Beacom, who warms to “the depth of choreographic conceptualisation that Balbir Singh uses to allow the piece to take form.” And for Balbir, the experience has been about finding a kindred spirit, whose dedication to pushing himself makes Gary like “a warrior on the ice, alone, fighting the ageing body for speed and athleticism.”

The (Elusive) Art of Figure Skating promises to reignite the spirit of artistic adventure that characterised those early innovators on ice, and to rediscover – and perhaps even reinvent – a lost art.

What you see out there now is all straight lines and two-footed skating. And a lot of jumps. It’s really quite remarkable what they do, stamina-wise and technique-wise. But skating has lost its beauty and charm in my view.

Gary Beacom

Photo: Malcolm Johnson