Text by: Ava Davies / 撰文：Ava Davies
Translated by: Zhao Kunfang / 翻譯：趙坤芳
Le Patin Libre, which translates as ‘The Free Skate’, are the first company of their kind, coining a new form of performance which they have named ‘contemporary skating’. They completely overturn any notion of a saccharine, ‘Dancing on Ice’ style, and forgo the glitter and spray-tan that traditionally adorns the sport. Founded in 2005 by Alexandre Hamel, the Canadian troupe consists of five principal dancers and devisors, who also act as their own technicians during shows. The company’s beginnings are a sure signal of their attitude towards skating: Hamel was kicked out of skate school several times, an incident which clearly still resonates with the troupe’s unpretentious, irreverent style.
Their concept of ‘contemporary skating’ is a fascinating one that has gained traction thanks to interest from Sadler’s Wells and other well-established companies. The medium is influenced heavily by traditional ice-skating, but also takes inspiration from urban dance routines and martial arts as well as contemporary circus, creating slick, accessible and contemporary dance pieces on ice. This modern, no-frills approach is reflected in Le Patin Libre’s costume choices: discreet black outfits which can often seem more suited to those working behind the scenes than those performing on the ice. The form is clearly a subset of visual theatre: the sheer skill and ability on show, particularly on such a harsh surface as ice is, creates a thrilling visual spectacle.
他們提出的”當代冰舞”的這一令人興奮的概念引起了賽德勒·威爾斯（Sadler’s Wells）和其他舞蹈劇場的興趣。傳統的冰上運動對這種新的表演形式有著至關重要的影響，而同時，街舞、武術、當代馬戲等藝術形式的交融也極大地啟發了當代冰上舞蹈的創作靈感。 對於當代性與實用性並重的思想也反映在自由冰舞舞團的服裝選擇上：與冰上表演者相比，謹慎的黑色服裝似乎往往更適合那些幕後工作人員。他們的表演模式顯然是一個視覺劇場：演出展示了舞者高超的技巧和能力，特別是在一個不平滑的冰面上，創造了激動人心的視覺盛宴。
Gone is the pretension that often overshadows the sport: the dancers are not afraid to fall (purposefully), skid on the ice and throw all their energy into a show that is more visceral and about the story they are telling than traditionally perfect, taking influence from the competitive nature of the ice-hockey scene in Montreal. Ultimately, they look to completely shatter the constraints placed upon them by their medium, to the extent that at the end of one of their latest performances, the audience are invited to come down from their stalls and skate around the rink with the troupe, learning basic dance routines rather than technical tricks. This charming prospect demonstrates just how far the company are willing to go to bridge the often insurmountable gap between audience and performer.
Though an extremely accessible company – they have a sizeable amount of children within their audiences – Le Patin Libre maintain that their aim, first and foremost, is directed towards the message they want to express. Whereas more conservative, traditional ice skating companies seem pander to what their audience wants to see the skaters do, Le Patin Libre look to fulfil their artistic needs above all else. They aim to be classified as performance art with a narrative and message rather than pure, mindless entertainment which they feel is embodied in the aesthetics of the Winter Olympics or ‘Dancing on Ice’. They feel strongly that ice-skating should no longer be seen as a sport, but rather as an art which embraces the collective and social feeling that dance can bring.
The intense traditionalism found normally in figure-skating , which hindered the radical company’s initial progress, only serves to highlight the rebellion of the their style and their need to strip back the extraneous, naff and occasionally tacky trimmings of traditional ice dancing. Ironically, the fact that the company’s style is actually fairly conventional when placed alongside other contemporary dance companies only goes to show the rigid elitism and conformity of traditional ice skating companies.
This is Contemporary Ice Skating, one of the company’s latest shows, acts as somewhat of an introduction to the company’s work. Running at only forty minutes until the audience are invited to come down and skate for themselves, it consists of short, often comedic pieces which strain against traditional ideas of figure-skating. One of the pieces even consists of one of the cast performing an urban dance routine on the ice, whilst his disapproving colleagues attempt to curb his effort at ingenuity, not-so subtly satirising the company’s own difficulties in branching out from the traditional ice-skating scene. Part of the production’s charm, however, arises from the almost farcical nature of the movement on the ice. One short piece is performed by the mostly male cast in open-backed hospital gowns and another is performed with the cast stripped down to their underwear, pulling away not only their clothes but also the veneer of pretension which so often surrounds figure-skating.
《這就是當代冰舞（This is Contemporary Ice Skating）》是劇團最新的作品，這部作品也基本上可以算作是公司整體風格的一個縮影。每一場演出的表演部份只有40分鐘，主要包括了一些短小精湛的喜劇表演，這樣的表演讓觀眾對”花樣滑冰”有了全新的認識，表演過後，觀眾會被邀請到冰場裡面和演員一起滑冰。其中有一幕非常有趣，一位舞者在冰面上演繹城市舞蹈，而另一位舞者則想盡辦法的要把他的表演給搞砸，而這種幽默的表達正是反映和諷刺了舞團在嘗試脫離傳統”冰舞”束縛過程中所遭遇和面對的真實處境。歸根結底，整部演出的魅力所在，就是肢體在冰面上運動而形成的獨有的滑稽狀態。
Vertical Influences, the company’s most recent touring show, takes a step away from the easy familiarity and accessibility for a family audience and takes a more forthright stride towards serious visual theatre, whilst maintaining a signature light touch. The lighting is dramatic and sparse, the music revolves around a heavy, singular bass beat and the movements of the skaters are tightly controlled and visceral. Much of the performance narrative appears to be concerned with ideas of body language and influences, with a single movement from one of the performers triggering a waterfall effect with the other four. During the second half, the audience are invited to get up close and personal with the dancers by sitting on wooden bleachers on the ice. It is in this that Le Patin Libre truly shine, skimming the surface centimetres away from the audience and at one point cheekily flicking mists of ice into the audience’s faces. This is testament to their skill – an ability to include and play with their audience and simultaneously create thought-provoking visual theatre.
Le Patin Libre Photo by Alice Clarke