For the next two weeks, contemporary dance-on-ice troupe, Le Patin Libre are presenting their latest piece, Skaters Anonymous, at the Saint-Louis Arena on rue St. Dominique in the Mile End. This is not an event to be missed.
Say it’s Saturday. You haven’t got a care in the world. The sun is shining. You’ve got a belly full of brunch. You’re ambling down the snowy streets wondering whether you’d fancy some light entertainment to cap off your leisurely afternoon.
Why not some art? On ice.
“Ice art?” you ask.
You’re incredulous now: “Is that not the stuff of Winter Carnival sculpture kitsch? Ice angels, ice palaces and the like?”
Had the suggestion been made on the icy streets of Quebec City in the dark month of February, your incredulity would be on point.
Lucky for you, it is nearing the end of March and this is Montreal. In Montreal, “ice art” carries with it an altogether different connotation because this is the city where the world’s only contemporary ice dancing collective was born.
The collective (or troupe) is called Le Patin Libre and consists of five core members, all of whom were world-class figure skaters in another life: Alexandre Hamel, Jasmin Boivin, Taylor Dilley, Samory Ba and Pascale Jodoin.
And for the next two weeks Le Patin Libre are presenting their latest piece, Skaters Anonymous, at the Saint-Louis Arena on rue St. Dominique in the Mile End. This is not an event to be missed.
The show, as Hamel explained to me in an interview after last week’s Montreal premier, is about the pressure of conformism and the struggle to resist it. It’s full of dark humour, parody and (self-aware) pastiche. It’s also got plenty of back flips, jumps, (near) nudity, pyrotechnics and a few choruses from Nirvana’s Teen Spirit.
There is loads to unpack there, I’m sure, but as a novice to the contemporary anything scene, I’ll hold back on a critique.
What I will say, is that once you settle into your bench seat, you will be exposed to a wash of theatrical lighting and three extremely gifted athletes pouring themselves into whatever it is they are doing, which is to say, developing a new art form right before your eyes.
Ice Capades this is not. In fact, Le Patin Libre is a reaction to novelty figure skating. When I asked co-founder and Creative Director Alexandre Hamel about the genesis of his collective. He replied, “Shame.”
“I woke up at twenty years old in a sparkly outfit skating to Hollywood soundtracks and doing kick lines.” He wanted out of the Ice Capades genre. So he created a genre of his own.
That was back in 2005. Seven years later, he’s grown his passion into an emergent art form and built a reputation for his troupe’s performances that stretches across the Atlantic.
If, like me, you have never heard of contemporary ice-skating, it’s because it’s about as marginal as art forms get. So marginal, that the troupe is having trouble securing grants and support from contemporary art festivals – nobody really knows how to deal with people who make serious art on ice.
Le Patin Libre is going all in on its efforts as a collective. While they practice in Montreal, they have made a name for themselves in Europe. The troupe has performed Skaters Anonymous three times in London and five times in France. And they have their sights set on Berlin (due in part, to its thriving alternative arts scene).
European audiences, explained Hamel, have fewer hang-ups about what skating is supposed to look like. It turns out Canadians love their hockey, they love their figure skating, and they have very little love for anything that deviates.
But Hamel and the troupe intend to change that. In Europe, he tells me, there is an explosion of urban ice dancing: “wherever there are rinks, there are dancers. We dance a lot with kids in Europe.”
And they’re hoping to start the trend right here in Montreal: “We want to bring the urban dance on ice movement here. We think it would be a cool socio-cultural experiment.”
Last winter they held weekly public dance lessons at Parc Lafontaine, and they plan on picking up where they left off next season. But don’t try bringing ice dancing indoors. “In Montreal, it’s forbidden to dance because ice rinks are managed by hockey players – so what the hell are you doing dancing.” They’re petitioning the city to change that, too.
Le Patin Libre is a collective of passionate indie performers. It’s inspired by Montreal’s circus and contemporary dance scene. Attend Skaters Anonymous and you will see contemporary dance unchained from friction. When figure skaters appropriate the principles of contemporary dance, glide happens.
It really makes you wonder why nobody has thought of doing something like this before.
So this weekend, go manger your brunch then mosey over to Arena St-Louis and get your mind blown. It’s guaranteed to kick Quebec’s sculptures in their icy asses.