Submit your body to Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences

Vertical Influences, by Le Patin Libre, is at the Britannia Ice Rink

Vertical Influences is freedom on ice. (Thanks to Alex Waterhouse-Hayward for this fabulous photo.)

I used to have a partner who would cry sometimes after sex. Watching Vertical Influences, I teared up again and again, and my tears were coming from the same place: I was moved by the body’s beauty and its capacity for joy.

This performance from Québec company Le Patin Libre is modern dance on ice. Forget what you know or think you know about ice dancing, Ice Capades, Holiday on Ice, or any kind of competitive figure skating. Le Patin Libre is exploring the expressive potential of skating— freed from the restraints of sports and kitsch.  

The evening Vertical Influences is made up of two complementary pieces of choreography. Before intermission, the audience sits on the long side of the ice rink and watches Influences. After the interval, the spectators move onto the ice: the floor of the seating area is covered with fabric and you sit on benches or cushions as you watch Vertical from the narrow end of the arena.  

Influences is a knockout. It starts in darkness with the sounds of blades cutting ice. Hovering blue light reveals five skaters—four men and a woman—jogging in place. Then they free themselves, breaking into slow motion, swinging their arms loosely like speed skaters. It’s a thesis statement of sorts: this evening is going to be all about the glide.  

As one of the figures breaks away from the unison of the pack, a kind of narrative emerges: faint hints of negotiating individuality, of conflict and inclusion.  

But it’s the sensuality of the movement that really matters. Jasmin Boivin moves horizontally across the ice, his upper body still, his feet twisting magically to propel him along his perfect, effortless trajectory. It’s the icy equivalent of moonwalking. 

Vertical Influences is playing the Britannia Ice Rink. As revealed here, the essential beauty of skating is its evocation of freedom. Nearly invisible adjustments in the distribution of their body weight or the angle at which the skaters direct their blades result in significant changes in direction, so skating creates the illusion that all you have to do to fly through space is to think about it. When the skaters extend their arms like wings and swoop around one another, they evoke delirious pleasure. When three of the men went into a deep plié and glided in circles, the feeling of spaciousness was so intense that I started scribbling ecstatic associations in my notebook: “Rothko!”, “prairie sky!” 

Force and propulsion are also part of the vocabulary, of course. In one gorgeous sequence, skaters slingshot one another around the rink. And there’s a passage in which the four other performers catch Samory Ba, holding his arms as he leans against the restraint—until they release him and the pent-up force propels him across the ice.

Do you know now why I was crying?

After intermission, Vertigo is quite a change. Sitting in the darkness, you hear blades approaching from the far end of the ice until suddenly the skaters are right in front of you.  

Throughout the evening, Lucy Carter’s lighting is gorgeous. Vertigo contains a particularly sumptuous sequence in which the lights rise and fall, rise and fall, revealing a series of dreamlike images: a skater spinning here, others floating far away. 

Spatially, there’s a problem, however. Whenever the skaters ventured further away than two-thirds of the length of the arena, I felt like my visceral connection with them was lost. And, for me, Pascale Jodoin’s solo in Vertical is the evening’s least interesting passage choreographically, the most familiar in terms of its standard figure-skating vocabulary.  

There are riches to be had, though, including Ba’s solo, in which he uses his body as a percussive instrument, clapping his hands, snapping his fingers, and slamming his blades into the ice as his long limbs carve the space into unexpected shapes.

Boivin composed the music for both pieces and it’s terrific: dark sometimes, but meditative in its restraint—horizontal in a way, like so much of the evening.  

Do your body a favour: go see Vertical Influences. And, when you do, dress warmly: the show is very cool and the venue is, necessarily, very cold.

VERTICAL INFLUENCES Choreography by Alexandre Hamel, Pascale Jodoin, Jasmin Boivin, Samory Ba, and Taylor Dilley. Produced by Le Patin Libre. Presented by The Cultch at the Britannia Ice Rink on Tuesday, April 18. Continues until April 30.

For tickets, phone 604-251-1363 or visit https://thecultch.com/tickets/

Le Patin Libre produced Vertical Influences. The Cultch is presenting it.

Even more thanks to Alex Waterhouse-Hayward for these images.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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