The Creative Spirit of John Curry is a collaborative artistic project between internationally renowned skaters, professional dancers, and community skating groups. A celebration of John Curry’s work and his impact on skating approaches, figure skating artists, and the critical development of ice dancing within society and entertainment.
The Creative Spirit of John Curry is a spectacle performed by world-class ice skaters, budding community skaters, and a multi-faceted production of dancers. Collaboration was a key element required for the success of this show. Artists were able to learn from one another and inspire with their skills and their approach to art-making. Dancers were performing on ice, and skaters were dancing on stage. Just as Curry broke boundaries, this production had no creative limitation and even had a stilt-walker on the ice. Being brave and bold was how artists celebrated Curry, dissecting his work, and finding challenging new ways of being innovative and diverse with their artistry.
This production was arts funded; the input and navigation given by Balbir Singh ensured that the output was more than an ice-skating sports performance and instead followed a creative process that resulted in an artistically developed production.
On the ice, we saw world-class skaters, some who perform on television, and others who are previous champions. The skaters were of all ages, and their varying experience offered new insight into choreography alongside their wide-ranging skill sets. The skaters took the lead with their choreography and structure – liaising with Balbir and Olga. Community skaters engaged with the work and were led by their group teachers. The director and producer constructed sections, and the professional skaters placed them in the relevant parts and instructed their movement.
The Creative Spirit of John Curry was unique in its approach, not only by having dancers and skaters performing together, but by artists performing the same movement on land and ice. The dancers were not backing dancers and supporting artists for the skaters, they recreated the same content for stage, it was intended to be inclusive and well-balanced.
During the creative process, dancers studied videos of Curry’s work and adapted them for land, replicating, as much as possible, his movements and execution. Skaters were asked to reproduce Curry’s work step for step. Seeing this combination of the same choreography on land and ice emphasised how Curry truly did dance on ice.
John Curry was an exceptional skater, and many cannot achieve what he was able to do on ice. Skaters found it a challenge to replicate Curry’s choreography exactly, due to its demanding technique and agility. The adaptations skaters made on Curry’s repertoire was an obstacle for dancers as it made the synchronisation unbalanced. However, this gave dancers a strong focus, as they were required to watch the skaters’ timing and movements and adapt their own performance live. Dancers were tasked with having elements of improvisation within the performances which positively pushed many to their creative limits.
As a dancer, I was able to adapt and nurture my skills throughout the development process of this production. Working alongside artists of differing skill sets requires me to be flexible with my choreography and execution. I needed to adapt my movement to suit the ensemble I was performing. I was in four sections: Fred Astaire, a Firebird extract, Faun and The Finale. Each piece was different in its style, allowing me to play with a range of choreography and perform in multiple ways in a single production.
Fred Astaire was a musical theatre and tap piece; styles I haven’t practiced in several years. It was a nourishing experience for me to have fun and smile on stage and to be included in a piece that gave energy and vibrance to the production. I was performing alongside two tall dancers, so I had to ensure my lines were clear and extended to match their movement style. In my own choreographic musical theatre style, I include centre isolation and perform everything low and grounded. Another dancer recreated this piece, therefore I had the opportunity to challenge myself and work in an upright commercial position.
The use of props is also a fun challenge, another factor to concentrate on while on stage. The performance space was small and intimate; therefore, our canes always needed to be in the correct position to prevent contact with the other dancers on stage. It was a structured piece with strict placements, so once everyone was confident with the repertoire it ran smoothly and looked effective on stage, with interaction with Gary on ice.
Faun was a piece I was placed into at a later stage. My focus was including myself within the work without interrupting the vibe,already created by the original performers. There were subtle references to John Curry’s original work within our movement, however most of the exact movement was replicated by the skater who was performing at the same time as the dancers. As I was not present during the devising process, I made sure to work on this in my own time, watching the movement style of others I was working with to ensure I had the same intention within my own work.
Once the dance choreography was established, we worked with the skaters to find moments where we could interact and hit precise movement simultaneously. This collaboration process was smooth, as it was clear how and where we could join and complement one another. Faun involved dancers from all disciplines. Hence it took time to tune in to the movement to highlight the similarities and differences of each artist and their execution while making the piece flow and compliment the skaters. Working with a skater developed my own practice by building and developing my choreographic repertoire. I am now able to think of how movement can be transferred into different environments while working around others’ restrictions, such as ice and blades.
The Firebird and Finale sections were very short and simple routines, which I was, again, placed into at later stages. Firebird was performed in silence, therefore required timing between the performers. There were three of us in this extract, and we were each standing on three different stages. The piece starts facing stage right, and I was at the front, unable to see the dancers behind me. During technical rehearsals, the dancers were starting the piece before me, and as I was at the front, I was unable to copy their starting cue. A simple conversation was able to rectify this obstacle, and the dancers followed me as a cue to start.
This production process has given me the tools to problem solve through conversation, which is not something I generally feel confident. I prefer to adapt my work in order to fix small issues, however in this scenario my only option was to verbally address the issue. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and it was a positive and relaxed conversation to have. There are many skills I have gathered over this process, such as movement vocabulary and performance flexibility. However, the critical skill I am developing continuously is my ability to raise my voice and converse with new dancers and performers. I have learned how to vocally problem solve, and my fellow performers supported me with this.
I was in only a few sections of the production of The Creative Spirit of John Curry, which allowed me to focus on performing each section to the best of my ability and find ways to connect with my adaptation of Curry’s work. There were challenges throughout, each offering me an opportunity to find ways of finding solutions. Collaborating with the skaters generated apprehension that the dance work may appear like a supporting act and that the dancing would not have its own presence. There are always areas from improvement, and there could have been more areas for skater and dancer connection. However, retrospectively, I feel that there was a solid balance between the dancers and the skaters and that each art form had their time to portray Curry’s multi- disciplinary skill set successfully.
Dancers worked hard to make each piece secure while supporting the skaters and allowing them to demonstrate their skills. It was a challenge to learn Curry’s work and replicate it on land. Many of the movements were gliding or turning, which became repetitive if imitated without the ice. I was able to practice my choreography skills and be creative with my approach.
The Creative Spirit of John Curry was an opportunity to celebrate the artistry of an influential skater, dancer, and champion. It introduced new audiences to Curry and the skating and performance world. It was an experimental production that gave the cast the freedom to collaborate and learn new skills that will impact future work created by those involved.
It engaged the community with the mini flash mob performances in the run-up to the production. It brought dancers from all around the world in a united performance to celebrate Curry in a small town in Teesside. Young skaters starred in the production, giving them away into the industry. This production was a success for all involved and for the audiences who enjoyed it.
A catalyst for creativity, multi-faceted art, and cultural diversity is something to be celebrated, and I only hope it is a model for future collaborative ice spectaculars.