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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

Ballet for Figure Skating, Figure Skating for Ballet - Reciprocal influences

As you can tell, I’m still in the Olympic mode of watching figure skating. When Nathan Chen from the US won the gold medal in men’s singles at the Beijing 2022, figure skating fans were fascinated not only by his great achievement but also by social media posts praising his early-age training in ballet:

A young Nathan Chen performs with Ballet West

When discussing the artistry of figure skating, we often search for the amount of ballet training in the skaters’ performances. It’s undeniable that ballet-trained skaters tend to show more expressiveness, musicality, smoothness and elegance in their skating. In fact, ballet has been regarded as an essential basis for artistic sports such as figure skating, gymnastics and synchronised swimming. As well as specialised training in each discipline, the athletes are also expected to engage in ballet lessons and other types of dances in order to excel at their chosen field.

In many figure skating routines, including singles, pairs and ice dance, it’s very common nowadays to notice even a slight amount of ballet training in the skaters’ movements. However, the other way is very rare. While we’re familiar with seeing skating routines that involve balletic moves, it’s not very common to see a staged ballet choreography depicting skating. Luckily, there are a few.

Les Patineurs

The most famous example would be Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet ‘Les Patineurs’, premiered in London in 1937. The entitled music, composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer, was arranged for ballet by Constant Lambert. This non-narrative piece portrays a Victorian skating party on a frozen pond, and the choreography involves movements that bear a resemblance to skating.

Les Patineurs by Perm Opera Ballet Theatre (2015)

The British skater John Curry, who was well-known for his admiration for ballet, made a skating-theatre version of this piece. Although we cannot tell if he saw Ashton’s version, he might have been inspired by the balletic attempt at creating the atmosphere of skating, and re-adapted it on ice:

John Curry - 1979 Les Patineurs

Dancing like skating

We’re often entertained by ice skaters who skate like dancing. In contrast, are there many dancers who dance like skating?

Kenneth Macmillan, who also choreographed a skating-theatre piece to Curry, created a series of pas de deux for ‘Manon’, one of his masterpieces, by bringing in his fascination for ice skating. According to his wife, Deborah MacMillan, he made the swirling pas de deux being inspired by ice skating movements:

Creating a classic: How Kenneth MacMillan created Manon for the Royal Ballet

Even though the story of ‘Manon’ itself has nothing to do with skating, we can see skating-like quality in how the dancers move, swirl and glide, while expressing joy:

Manon - Act 1 bedroom pas de deux - Alessandra Ferri Irek Mukhamedov 1992

The reciprocal influences

Figure skating is an artistic sport which has its own dynamism, its own discipline and its own beauty. Many of us feel inspired and mesmerised by watching the well-trained skaters. However, when seeing the relationship between ballet and artistic skating, we tend to place ballet in a superior position to judge the skaters’ performances and choreographies from the ballet point of view.

Ashton and MacMillan were not only inspired by ice skating but also provoked to create ballet pieces out of skating. Ballet certainly enriches the skills and artistry of figure skaters, but figure skating can also enrich the world of ballet. The relationship can be reciprocal.

Reminiscing about the golden history of British Figure Skating - The Beijing 2022 (6th Feb 2022)


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