Heating the wintery air - Dancing flamenco on ice
Flamenco isn’t usually associated with cold weather, normally the opposite. However, there is an art form which suits the wintery air and the heat of flamenco simultaneously: that’s figure skating.
As the temperature has dropped and another season of Dancing on Ice is bound to be back on UK television, I’d like to talk about some world-class figure skaters performing flamenco on ice.
Flamenco in figure skating
In the world of competitive figure skating, flamenco has been one of the most popular music choices. Almost every year, there have been some skaters, whether in ice dance or singles, who use flamenco music partly or for a whole programme.
Despite this popularity, it might be quite rare to feel ‘real’ flamenco-ness from such ice skating routines, especially if you’re familiar with how flamenco is supposed to be. Apparently, the foot gear is so different from normal flamenco shoes and, more significantly, the dancers are constantly gliding on the frozen surface instead of gripping the floor to stamp rhythmically. It’s very difficult to realise percussive footwork on ice, and such an attempt might not go well with smooth skating steps.
This leads the skaters to strategically work on the other flamenco-y elements such as upper-body movements, fierce-face expressions, skirt-whirling, hand-clapping. Though these aspects are also important, demonstrations of such parts could end up with something stereotypical, if exaggerated too much.
Dancing flamenco on ice is extremely difficult, hence I have a strong admiration for skaters who manage to capture the authenticity of flamenco and bring it on ice. Here, I’d like to share a few of my favourite routines by world-class ice skaters.
Flamenco poetry on ice
Antonio Najarro is undoubtedly the most sought-after flamenco choreographer for figure skaters. Along with his ‘normal’ flamenco and Spanish Dance activities, he has worked for many renowned Olympians, including the 2006 Olympic silver medalist Stéphan Lambiel of Switzerland.
His ‘Poeta’ choreographed for Lambiel (2006-2008 season) created a sensation among figure skating fans at that time. Unlike other flamenco-inspired skating choreographies, it was so close to authentic flamenco (on ice), or at least Lambiel beamed a veritable air of flamenco through his exquisite performance and the elegant, poetic choreography by Najarro. It wasn’t just an ice skating routine using flamenco music; probably it was the first of that kind, and it’s still the best.
Stéhane Lambiel ‘Poeta’ (music by Vicente Amigo)
Najarro continued creating more flamenco-related works for skaters, including Spain’s ice skating hero Javier Fernández, international ice dancers such as Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat of France, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada, to name but a few. If I have to choose only one ice dance routine made by him, I’d probably pick this:
Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat ‘Malagueña’
In a way, there is no wonder why Najarro has succeeded in flamenco choreography on ice, as he himself is an excellent flamenco dancer and choreographer. However, most figure skaters aren’t flamenco dancers. When a supposed-to-be-flamenco routine is created by a choreographer who isn’t particularly specialised in flamenco, there is a risk of it not looking convincing as flamenco to the eye of flamenco people.
In other words, it should be impressive when we feel the air of flamenco from ice skating routines which weren’t made by flamenco artists. There are indeed, at least to me, such flamenco-inspired dance pieces on ice, and I’d like to show you these two examples for now.
The first example, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada, are probably the most celebrated ice dance couple in terms of their competitive records (including two Olympic gold medals) as well as skating talents. Their skating is, whatever programme they perform, mesmerising and enchanting. ‘Farruca’ (2009-2010 season) was probably choreographed by their then coaches, Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband (correct me if wrong). Without incorporating flamenco footwork, they exhibit the compás and the beats of the music so well by their profoundly excellent skating itself and eloquent body usage.
Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir ‘Farruca’ (music by Pepe Romero)
Last but not least, a Japanese figure skating choreographer and ex-ice dancer Kenji Miyamoto created an impressive flamenco choreography for Shizuka Arakawa, the gold medalist of 2006 Olympics. Born as a show number, not for a competitive skate, it has more room for artistic interpretation and Arakawa embodies flamenco-ness not only through her expressiveness but also through her extraordinary skating skills - passionate but sombre at the same time.
In the chilly cold weather, I hope these performances will somehow give you the ice-melting excitement of flamenco, and you'll probably be able to find more of them on the Internet. Please keep warm and take care everyone.
Shizuka Arakawa ‘El Flamenco’