Alexandre Hamel is on a mission to unite the world through ice skating.

Founder of the Montreal-based Le Patin Libre (literally “The Skate Free” in English), Hamel and his collective have created Vertical Influences, a performance art hybrid with skating as its base. It is a unique idea attracting audience groups who might not otherwise come together.

“We are invited by groups such as The Cultch who are very much focused on the arts, but we also have hockey players who want to come check us out. And they bring their wives, or girlfriends, their entire families,” says Hamel.  “We are able to bring together groups that wouldn’t otherwise come together and have an opportunity to introduce them to this contemporary performing art. It really is quite exciting.”

Founded in 2005 by world class ex-figure skaters, Le Patin Libre was formed as an escape from figure skating stereotypes and from the professional “On Ice” business.

“I was in Disney on Ice and my colleagues were in similar shows, and we grew tired of them,” says Hamel. “They are very successful for what they are, and are a tradition that is loved and celebrated, but it doesn’t challenge itself to innovation.”

Gathering his team together, Hamel set out to innovate outside the figure skating norms. No sequins here, no well-known fairy tale stories; the intent was to create contemporary dance on ice.

Starting out modestly, Le Patin Libre’s initial performances were on frozen ponds in Montreal. While audiences liked what they saw and were supportive, Hamel says the more conservative world of Canadian figure skating was not.

Pushed out of local rinks by the figure skaters, the group found allies on the private ice rinks in France. It was here the group would experiment and hone their ice dancing genre.

“It makes us sound dumb, but it took us a good five years,” says Hamel of the initial creation process. “In the beginning we just wanted to be different and lots of things we tried at the beginning were naive and stupid.”

Figure skating is all about pastiche and for our first five years we slowly shed it all. What is left is pure skating. – Alexandre Hamel

Part of the collective’s learning experience was to look to contemporary dance for inspiration.

“We didn’t have the knowledge of dancers and we had to come to terms with having lived in ice rinks and the idea of medals and competition,” says Hamel.  “It took us a good five years obsessively watching contemporary dance to come to that simple theory.”

The result is what the company calls “Glide”.

“It is our choreographic technique, our dance recipe; it is the difference between moving your body and moving through space,” explains Hamel. “It is the theory that is applied in Vertical Influences and why spectators are glued to their seats.”

While the notion of Glide may be a tad esoteric, Le Patin Libre continues to strip away figure skating’s traditional presentation for something new.

“The medium is the same with blades, skates, and ice, and the movements are the same because we are trained figure skaters,” says Hamel. “But on an intellectual and creative level we have a very different way to consider the medium.”

For Le Patin Libre it also comes from a less-is-more philosophy.

“We don’t have fireworks, big costumes and stories,” says Hamel. “Figure skating is all about pastiche and for our first five years we slowly shed it all. What is left is pure skating.”

Vertical Influences plays at the Britannia Ice Rink (1661 Parker St, Vancouver) April 18-30. Visit http://thecultch.com for tickets and information.

Vancouver Presents

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