The Creative Spirit of John Curry

Honouring Curry’s introduction of ballet to ice-skating

find out more
Photo: Malcolm Johnson

In 2018, the Artistic Director of the Billingham International Folklore Festival, Olga Maloney, collaborated with Balbir Singh to create a new piece to celebrate the life of a fascinating and under-acknowledged ice skater. The resulting work, The Creative Spirit of John Curry, was a sparkling tribute, featuring some of the best talent from the world of ice skating.

In 2022, Balbir was invited to speak about the legacy and artistry of John Curry – a great man who went into figure skating when dance was not an option for him in ‘John Curry – Floating on Ice’. A BBC documentary for LGBTQ+ History Month 2022 by Miriam Walker-Kahn and Sylvie Devany, now available on BBC iPlayer, watch it here.

Ice dancers Oscar Peters and Yebin Mok skate beautifully in the piece. Oscar, Yebin and Balbir worked together with Olga Maloney on Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance’s production of ‘The Creative Spirit of John Curry.’ The show was directed by Balbir and premiered in Billingham Forum Ice Arena in 2019. It’s fantastic to be able to celebrate John in LGBTQ History Month.

This production followed on from BSDC’s 2017 work, Peacock Lake, a 3.5 hour long performance on ice, with a cast of over 150 performers and a musical ensemble. Peacock Lake was Balbir’s take on Swan Lake, drawing upon Indian and Russian folk mythology. 

Indian influences and mythology also feature in The Creative Spirit of John Curry, as Balbir combines a number of elements to vividly tell the story of the skater. Expansive and boundary-breaking, John Curry’s work gels well with Balbir’s approach; both combine a variety of styles and influences to produce exhilarating new ideas. 

John brought ballet to the ice. As a child, his father banned him from taking ballet lessons, but he was allowed to ice skate. Dance’s loss was ice skating’s gain, though, and winning Olympic gold in 1976 opened the door to incredible innovation in John’s output. His hard work saw him collaborating with many high profile dance choreographers, from Twyla Tharp to Robert Cohan and Frederick Ashton.

The Creative Spirit of John Curry featured an international cast of skaters, including Mark Hanretty and Yebin Mok from ITV’s Dancing on Ice, and an ensemble of dancers performing on a stage set up on the ice. Conscious of avoiding a ‘tribute band’ tour through Curry’s dance numbers, and keen to create a work that really honoured his character, Balbir engaged original John Curry company skater Lorna Brown, and ice-and-rollerblade collaborator Gary Beacom.

The challenge was to make a work that provided an insight into the thinking and mindset of John Curry: his daring, struggles and mental challenges, and above all, supreme artistry and boldness. The work needed to be an emotional journey, one of technical discovery and understanding, a blending of landscapes of dance, stage and ice, as well as the exquisite work John created and skated. To tell this story of discovery, Balbir conceived the idea of basing the narrative around a relationship between John Curry and the ice.

Producing The Creative Spirit of John Curry was an enjoyable challenge – thrilling, exhausting, and uplifting in equal measure, and a privilege to pay homage to John Curry on what would have been his 70th birthday year.

‘I would like to think John Curry would have been pleasantly surprised to see what we were able to do with his talent and creativity on ice.’ BS


Photo: Malcolm Johnson

BSDC: The work