What’s the difference between dance and contemporary skating? A lot, yet not much. This is the conclusion I reached last night when I went to see Vertical Influences by local collective Le Patin Libre at Aréna Saint-Louis.
There are the obvious advantages of the skates: velocity dancers could only dream of, the ability to move backwards as easily as forward, spins that make the fouette turns of ballet look unnecessarily laboured.
With dance it also shares its weaknesses, like when it focuses on physical feats, which in this case are jumps, of course. These inevitably come across as tricks ripe for applause, which they inevitably get, a force of habit that we have figure skating to thank for. As such, the jumps break the flow of the show, momentarily shining a metaphorical spotlight on the one or two skaters involved in the action. It is a fine line between “look at this” and “look at me!” Unlike the rest of the show, these moments leave us with a feeling (which is obviously more than just a feeling) of déjà-vu.
Yet it is foreseeable that jumps could be salvaged by getting rid of this metaphorical spotlight, if they were used for their aesthetic qualities rather than as a display for their athletic ones; if they were truly incorporated into the whole as movement through space and layering devices, for their a/synchronism and musicality.
Of course, our deepest attraction to Vertical Influences comes courtesy of that which dance cannot offer, that which only skating can give us: in the exhilaration felt when danger is heightened as skaters’ speed and proximity increase; when the music subsides and the blades take over the sound work, most beautifully exemplified by Samory Ba’s solo; in the pristine ice, the entirety of which becomes covered in shreds as the five skaters use it for all it’s worth. Vertical Influences is a sure crowd-pleaser, a sign of the heights to which Le Patin Libre might bring skating if they keep pushing the envelope.