A Russian skating star, a Kathak /contemporary choreographer, an Anglo-Indian jazz composer and a champion Canadian figure skater. Who are these unlikely collaborators, and what are they dreaming up on a windswept Northumbrian promenade?

It was an unlikely gathering. Leading international figure skater Gary Beacom and Olga Maloney (previously tour manager of Russian All Stars and Torvill and Dean) meeting on a windswept beach with Balbir Singh and his long-time musical associate Jazz / Kathak composer Jesse Bannister.

The occasion was a post festival get together following two highly successful nights of Peacock Lake, the hybrid dance-ice spectacular that Balbir Singh had just created for Billingham International Festival. But this was more than a chance to review and share feedback. As is so often the case with Balbir Singh, what began as a one-off collaboration, had sparked off ideas and possibilities for new projects that could take Balbir Singh Dance Company even further onto the ice.

Peacock Lake had attempted – and succeeded – in bridging many worlds: the Billingham performance had not only involved skaters, dancers and live musicians. It had pulled in folk performers, in town for the Billingham Festival, and community cast members, to create a show with over two hundred performers, either on or around the ice.

As an opener for the Billingham Festival Peacock Lake brought innovation, ambition, spectacle – and glitz – to audiences more used to the traditional offerings of this most venerable of folk dance festivals. It also brought the logistical challenges of working at scale and across very diverse artistic disciplines – in fact all the ingredients for a typical Balbir Singh Dance Company collaboration!

And while working at this scale is certainly not unknown for Balbir Singh Dance Company, it was the kernel of the collaboration that was particularly exciting to Balbir.

This was the purpose of the meeting on the beach. Building on the momentum created by Peacock Lake, Balbir wanted to bring together his collaborators to explore what this could mean in practice.

‘If I can start from a strong artistic concept and bring high-level performers to the work, then there are opportunities not only to extend and develop the artform but to push the performers themselves to explore new ideas in their own fields too.’

Balbir Singh

Not all artforms share the approach to developing the work that Balbir, trained in both contemporary and Kathak dance styles, brings to a project. So it was exciting to Balbir to discover that his collaborators in Peacock Lake not only understood what he was wanting to achieve, they wanted to explore taking it further.

The learning from the rehearsal process (which had been carried out in Milton Keynes and Coventry as well as Billingham itself) was part of this discussion. But more importantly, the meeting acknowledged that it was Balbir’s ability to manage a creative process in which performers were taken outside their comfort zone that allowed the piece to grow despite the inevitable challenges of so epic a vision.

The meeting on the beach was never going to come up with a new show. But as a starting point for considering how Balbir’s creative vision can be harnessed to future international ice-based projects, it was a resounding success. As with Champion of the Flatlands (which developed from BMXer Keelan’s story) Balbir is keen to explore how Gary’s life and career can be brought to life on stage and ice, especially for audiences unfamiliar with his extraordinary contribution to the world of ice skating.

‘I am always seeking new artistic challenges because this is where artistic growth comes from’

Balbir Singh

Balbir writes:

“I am always seeking new artistic challenges because this is where artistic growth comes from. With Gary Beacom I found a performer who grasped my artistic vision and was very willing to explore how this could be expressed in the language of figure skating. My use of live music and the underlying values and principles of Kathak, which inform all my work, seemed to really spark off new creative responses in Gary.”


Since the time of writing, Balbir’s continued development work with Gary Beacom has led to a new work – The (Elusive) Art of Figure Skating, which celebrates Gary’s extraordinary life and career.

Explore the process

A lost art?
A bridge to India
Immersed in music
When Worlds Collide
The Idea (learning to dance)
Natural curiosity and questions (learning to dance)
Composer thoughts on Learning to Dance
In the presence of geniuses
The story (love and spice)
A dancer reflects on The Strategists (1)
Overview of The Strategists
Breakdown of The Strategists
Roundness of 12: a breakdown of the piece
Breakdown of the piece (love and spice)
Script (12)
Painter research
A dancer reflects on Love and Spice
Full Contact – highlights from the script
Dancer notes performance (flatlands)
Peacock Lake – genesis of the concept
Firing up the Mehfil Machine
The Collaborators
Creative Case – challenges along the way
The Guru-Shishya relationship
What is Kathak?
Life blood
Collaboration: Balbir & Gary
Colouring your emotions
Covid-19 Update on Monday, April 6th, 2020
Creative Case in action – July to September 2019
Finding my way in The Creative Spirit of John Curry
Talent Development – Abirami Eshwar
Talent Development – Kimberley Hardy
Collaborators: Lorna Brown and Gary Beacom
The Work: Act 1
The Work: Act 2
Planning the show
The 8 Dances
Who was Hans Krebs?
The Citric 
 Acid cycle
Balbir’s thoughts behind the work
Balbir on developing the work
Amrita Sher-Gil & Frida Kahlo
My favourite painting is. . .
Balbir reflects on The Two Fridas
Cast one
Devising in lockdown
Las dos Fridas
‘Alas Para Volar (Wings to Fly)’
Amrita – a story that lives in Art