Cirque de Glace 2017

October 30, 2017
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Reut Golinsky

Ice stars of "Cirque de Glace" came to Jerusalem, Israel last August. Their performance, which combined skating, dance and acrobatics, told the creation story of our planet, man's evolution, a journey to the limits of technology and the dangers it can bring. During the last rehearsal of the show we had a chance to meet one of the leading skaters, Valdis Mintals, and show's creative director, Julian Deplidge.

Valdis Mintals: "Figure skating should advance, step by step"

Estonian pair skater, multiple national champion, Valdis Mintals retired from competitions in 2002 but keeps following figure skating as a passionate fan. He always tries to be up to date with the news and help local young skaters when he is back at home between his numerous shows.

To watch competitions live is almost never possible with my job. Only if I happen to be at home when we have, for example, National Championships. But I follow all the big competitions - Grand Prix events, Grand Prix Final, Europeans, Worlds, Olympic Games - on TV and online.

You were a pair skater; which disciplines do you watch now as a spectator?

I'm mostly interested in pairs and single skating. I can't say that ice dance is not interesting to me, but I prefer the programs with jumps and throws more. (smiles)

What do you think about the high level the pair skating has reached now?

And not only pair skating! In general the level of figure skating grew a lot, and over the past few years it made a quantum leap. You can't imagine now that in men's discipline someone would win with only one quadruple jump, while not so long ago you could even win Olympics without one. Now every program has multiple quads and, of course, it is very exciting.
Same story in pairs. The rules have changed - before we all skated having more or less the same template of the program, performing almost the same lifts. Now everyone tries to invent something new, some interesting entrances to the elements, interesting positions. And, of course, now we have quad throws, which is also very exciting to watch.

This is one of the most debatable topics in figure skating, what is better - to try ultra-C elements and add complexity or make emphasis on the quality of each element. There were even opinions that certain elements should be banned. What do you think?

My opinion is that it's always exciting to see the complexity of the performed elements; the progress shouldn't be stopped, figure skating shouldn't stay at the same level as twenty years ago. Figure skating should advance, step by step.
But, of course, the quality is also very important. If you can hardly finish your element and you're doing it with a lot of mistakes while someone else performs another element, maybe an easier one, but makes it clean, with good height, of course, this should be taken into consideration. But if you compare two clean, well-performed elements, while one of them is triple and the other one is quad, well, then...

What is the situation with figure skating in Estonia right now? As far as I know Estonia doesn't have skaters who qualified for the Olympic Games.

We had the succession of generations when I was finishing my competitive career, and this happened once again after that. This is always a very complicated process; Estonia is not a big country to have as many skaters as, for example, Russia. But we have good skaters too, probably their goal is not gold, but participation in big championships. They will try to do their best and we will cheer on them.

How much do you follow the development of Estonian figure skating, do you maybe work with them, or help them in some way?

We rarely come home. But when we do, sometimes we're asked to help. We have Estonian skaters who take part in various shows abroad, but when they come home sometimes they are asked to help with the choreography of the program, or the step sequence, or sometimes to help with the lifts. I personally worked with a very young pair, they don't compete at the junior level yet, they are novices.

Estonia held various international competitions - junior Grand Prix event, Europeans in 2010. Is this something initiated and backed up by Estonian federation?

Like with every small country which doesn't have very developed figure skating, when we have a big competition in Estonia - either Junior Grand Prix or Junior Worlds or Europeans - this boosts the interest towards this sport. First they come to watch as spectators, then more parents decide to bring their children to learn skating. It's known that figure skating is a rather expensive sport and not everyone can afford it. But currently the level of interest in Estonia is pretty high.

Julian Deplidge: "We aim to bring something different to the world"

Producer, manager and creative director of the "Russian Ice Stars", Julian Deplidge shared some challenges and business secrets of creating a touring ice show.

First of all, welcome to Israel and to Jerusalem. And thank you for bringing skating to Jerusalem because this is the first time in history, I think, that we have a big skating show here.

It's a pleasure to be here. I only arrived very early this morning, but it's a beautiful arena, and a beautiful city from what I've seen so far. We're looking forward to performing here.

How did it happen that you came to Jerusalem? Were you invited? Was it your initiative?

We were invited. We heard about this wonderful new ice rink that had been installed for the summer, and the local promoters contacted our agent and invited us to perform. We were absolutely delighted.

The ice was ready for you because it was prepared for the Maccabiah Games and then as a summer attraction for the public, but I understand that you can bring your own ice too, that this is also your specialty.

That's correct.

How much more complicated it is to bring "your own" ice with you?

Actually for us building the ice rink is a very simple process, it's something that we developed almost 25 years ago and we were one of the first companies in the world who specifically designed touring ice rinks. We can actually build them in about 36 hours from an empty arena to a show, in 24 to 36 hours generally. We've toured all over the world, been on every continent bar Antarctica. We've been to Australia, South America, North America, and Europe, all across Asia. We've just came out of a six-week tour of China. We've also built them in outdoor amphitheaters in Tunisia and Morocco, so we can build them in open-air. From that side building ice is a second nature to us. A lot of people think it's this huge feat of technical engineering but to us it's our bread and butter, it's our day job. We probably build somewhere around 25 to 35 ice rinks a year depending upon our schedule, so it's not such a big challenge for us these days.

Well, then the question is why didn't you come to us earlier?

We've been touring now for 25 years, we've had a very busy, very hectic schedule. We were invited several years ago to come and perform in Israel but we just couldn't get our dates to match up. And one of the things with international touring is that our equipment can sail for maybe six or eight or even ten weeks at a time, so we had a very tight schedule and we just couldn't line up the shipping to bring our equipment here. For example, our main equipment is currently on its way back from China, so luckily we had an ice rink here; otherwise we wouldn't be performing.

Is there any minimal number of performances you need to be invited to, to make this effort worthwhile?

From our side it's down to the local promoters' ability to hopefully make a profit by selling enough seats. So if he's into a big arena and he can break even because tickets' sales are very good or because of the arena's capacity, we can perform one show. And we've done one-off performances before. It's all down to budgets essentially. When you have 30 people, you have 30 sets of flights, 30 hotel rooms, 30 mouths to feed; it can be quite an expensive process and so you can obviously amortize that cost over one show, 10 shows or 50 shows. So it just depends upon the individual budget and also whereabouts in the world. We're an English-based company and our skaters are predominantly Russian, so to tour, say, Europe is a lot cheaper than touring Brazil, for example. And when we talk Brazil I think the freight and the air fares alone were touching $200,000, just to get us there. So that's a lot of tickets to recoup that money.

August is a "family month" in Israel, when all the children are not in school and not in summer camps, and most of the parents are taking vacations to be with them. I expect that you will have here spectators from age 0 to 99. Are your shows suited for any age?

There is something for everybody. In this show specifically there's an environmental message, so it's semi-educational, but you can also take away the story and just sit and watch. Some of the flying sequences, some of the acrobats. I've been doing this show for years and there are still certain moments where I sit there and I'm genuinely on the edge of my seat. I must have seen the show, I don't know, 200-300 times maybe, but still there are parts that really excite me and it's great fun to come and watch.

I understand that your company started from somewhat different stories for the shows, mostly fairy tales, the direction was more theatrical and that it was your idea to bring circus in.

Yes, I just thought it was a new twist, I thought it would be something new, something exciting to try. And, judging by the audience reactions and the reviews, it seems to work out. So, yes, I'm quite proud of it, it's a good little show.

Do you plan more shows which will have circus elements in them? Or will this be the only one with such "flavour"?

At the moment, yes. We have another one that is partly written and I can't give away too much at the moment, but we're looking at maybe 2018 or 2019 to have a new version of the circus show out.

When you were invited here were you asked to perform this specific show or was it your choice?

We were asked specifically for circus.

There is little knowledge about figure skating in Israel so probably that's why the combination with circus was more appealing. In the end your idea of combining it with circus will bring more people to figure skating, which is great.

This is something we aim to do, bringing a little bit of something different to the world, not the same old thing that everybody's been doing for years. It's good to be here and hopefully the Israeli audience will enjoy it.

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