Art On Ice 2008
Text © Gemma Louise Bennett
Pictures © Gemma Louise Bennett
On the 17th February 2008 my best friend and I travelled the relatively short distance to Sheffield to see Art On Ice 2008 at Sheffield Arena. As well as it being a birthday treat for myself it was also my best friend’s first ice show; a skating virgin who had never stepped on the ice herself nor watched a single televised performance outside Dancing on Ice. I was out to convert her to all things figure skating during the evening and had lured her along with the promise of Ronan Keating.
We stayed at the Premier Inn directly across the road from Ice Sheffield and around the back of Sheffield Arena itself. Once we’d got settled in we went for some lunch at Burger King around the corner and across the road from the front of Sheffield Arena, where we possibly sighted a guy in a hat who may or may not have been Jamal Othman. I kept looking despite not having my glasses and obviously my friend was rather disinterested as he wasn’t Ronan.
After lunch we went back to the hotel by cutting through behind the Arena where we could hear music playing, where they must have been practicing or sound checking or something. I was already getting excited by this time. After a quick pit stop at the hotel to open my birthday presents, shower, we prepared Swissmiss’s beautiful banner for Stéphane Lambiel.
Before heading off to the show I received a message from my top secret contact and friend (who understandably wishes to remain anonymous) about the chance of going to the After party. At a cost of £140 to get VIP tickets for the show, transfers to and from the Arena and entry to the After party, I felt this was a rather steep price to pay.
We set off for something to eat for dinner before the show. We ate at Frankie and Benny’s which was really nice, but it was hard to concentrate on the food. Almost everyone in the restaurant was talking about skating, some people even had flowers and presents to throw on the ice (although I didn’t see that many thrown during the show). A couple of people remarked about the Swiss bag that the banner was in too and I felt really proud to be looking after it for the AS girls. Thanks for trusting me with the banner ladies, I felt like I was carrying the Olympic torch!
It was a very cold night but luckily the queue to get into the Arena wasn’t too long. The organisation on the doors seemed extremely slick; however the Arena was by no means full, so I suppose it is easier to cope with fewer people. Inside I purchased a program for £7.00; whilst nicely presented, seemed hastily put together (some performers were missing from the program entirely). Also on sale was the DVD of last year’s event and T-shirts.
We were seated in the back row (P) of the inner circle, with only the walkways behind us, which meant we could stand up and wave the banner without blocking anyone’s view. On the Friday before the event I had rung the Arena and they had said we could not hang the banner, which was bad news. However at the end of the show we were told by a steward that we could have hung it without any problems.
I got my camera out and my press pass, as the stewards were extremely keen on stopping people taking pictures (even more keen than other events I’ve been to). Whilst we were waiting for the show to begin we could see skaters along the side of stage stretching and warming up, some were even practising jumps.
At 7.32 the lights went out and the crowd erupted. Wilf O’Reilly, the announcer for the first part of the evening (apparently a very successful short track speed skater in his day) introduced himself. Without wishing to be too negative about the experience, the entire show would have benefited from his absence. He was terrible at announcing and pronouncing the names of the skaters, for example Sinead Kerr became Sinead O’Connor, Stéphane Lambiel became Stéphane Lapel and Shizuka Arakawa got mixed with Yuko Kawaguchi. It was all rather embarrassing, particularly in front of such a knowledgeable crowd. The crowd did in fact turn and boo when he mispronounced J-LO for Jo-Low.
Obviously it’s hard for me to try and remember who performed when because I was so excited and didn’t write any notes! But as far as I can remember the show kicked off with Frenchman Romain Gazave on piano. I hadn’t seen him skate before but enjoyed his piano playing.
The next number was much more up tempo with Jamal Othman skating to a recording of Kids in America (which I can only assume would have been a live performance from Kim Wilde during the Swiss leg of the tour). Jamal was accompanied by lots of other skaters too. His spins were (as you’d expect from the Swiss) very impressive.
Sarah Meier (looking striking in blue) was next to perform, to something from the 'Amelie' soundtrack. I was impressed with her musicality she seemed a good ‘fit’ with the music and proved to be versatile (in her later performance).
Next to perform was the equilibrist Anatoly Zalevsky on a podium in the centre of the ice. Whilst not a skater I was none the less impressed with his act of complex gymnastic movements and controlled balanced which was unbelievable once set to classical music.
At this point we greeted our first live musical performer of the evening: The Icelandic (though remarkably British sounding when speaking) Cortes. I had come across Cortes before (he played the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in the West End) but was completely blown away by his voice live. His voice is as rich and interesting as Andrea Bocelli’s and just as moving.
The next on ice performance was by Romain Gazave skating and playing piano with Cortes singing. I was more captivated by the singing than the skating and found myself wishing Gazare had stayed behind his piano. There was one minor fall on a jump, but the performance was pleasant enough.
The next performer was Jenna McCorkell. It was nice to see the British champion included in the event for the local crowd and after a good showing at European’s earlier in the year. She was joined on the ice by fiancé Kevin Van Der Perren and they skated a sort of duet including side by side jumps and a nice pair’s spin. The moments that stood out were the artistic interplay between the two of them and of course Jenna’s double axel which seems to get higher every time I see it!
If I had been impressed by Jenna and Kevin then I was completely bowled over by Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy who performed their program from ‘The Mission’ without so much technical content, with Cortes singing. The highlights were several beautiful death spirals (I love Robin’s free arm during these) and side by side step sequence which was wonderfully synchronised. One other thing that impressed me was the ease at which they get up to speed on the ice. Easily one of the most polished performances of the evening (my friend fell in love with Robin during the routine).
Next to perform was Vicky Ogden, a performer on Torvill and Dean’s ‘Dancing on Ice: Make me a star’, she certainly lit up the ice by performing with a variety of flaming torches and batons and some rather pointless mirrors. The skating done was rather minimal but the spectacle was impressive enough.
Shizuka Arakawa performed next. She skated to Nessun Dorma sung by Cortes, and delighted the crowd with trade mark spirals and balletic positions. She had great speed over the ice and great strength in her jumps; it was easy to see why she was Olympic champion.
Next came the London based lift specialists Fiona Gabrielle and Dmitri Sukhanov who performed some amazing and dangerous looking lifts to music from the Passion of the Christ - a very dramatic program to dramatic music.
The next skaters on the ice were John and Sinead Kerr, they received without a doubt, the loudest cheer from the audience as they took up their starting positions. They skated a ‘full-fat’ version their Original Dance, complete with kilts, great foot work and amazing lifts. They looked even more polished than at National’s earlier in the year and seemed to be presenting out to the crowd much more which was brilliant.
Next the moment I had waited (and come prepared with the banner) for, Stéphane Lambiel plus far too many dancers performed to a medley of ‘Gimme More’ and ‘Sexy Back’ – wow – even with a fall on the triple flip it was still brilliant! It was nice to see something a bit wild skated for fun rather than to please judges, although there was great technical content in the spins (unsurprisingly). As usual, the musicality and artistry (despite the unconventional choice of music) shone through.
There was a fifteen minute interval while the ice was resurfaced. During this time the audience filled up, as some had come to see Ronan rather than the skating. At the end of the interval we were treated to the dancers doing a very sexy number to a medley of Rihanna and Janet Jackson songs amongst others. We had chance to catch our breath and relax.
The Russian pair of Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov were first to skate after the interval. They looked a little uncertain compared to everyone else, she in particular looked quite unsteady and the choreography seemed rather staccato compared to the music. There is certainly a lot of promise in the partnership but it wasn’t shown off to full effect during this performance.
Kevin Van Der Perren returned to the ice next to perform a solo number. He performed to ‘El Tango de Roxanne’ from the Moulin Rouge. He was on top form, just hitting triple after triple and had real contact with the audience, particularly with eye contact and dramatic arm movements. It had a real sense of drama and was rather intimidating and energetic.
Now the audience was really lively and greeted John and Sinead Kerr with another loud cheer. They showed their versatility and performed their Landing/Enigma program, complete with eye-popping lifts and great synchronised footwork. It is hard to choose a favourite performance from the evening but this, at the risk of coming over all patriotic, by the British champions is certainly a contender.
At this point Ronan arrived on stage. Despite not being much of a fan (in fact any kind of a fan at all) I was impressed with how much he seemed to admire the skaters he even went so far as to say that every time they jump ‘he lives it with them until they land’. Another reason to be pleased at the arrival of Ronan was that he took over the announcing duties from the woeful Wilf O’Reilly.
After a number to ‘Loving Each Day As If It’s The Last’ by Ronan and the dancers, the next on ice performer was Sarah Meier who skated to ‘When you say nothing at all’. It was an intelligently constructed program that told the story of two lovers separated, the other lover being played by one of the dancers (Cale) on a podium on the ice. I was impressed with Meier’s capacity to tell the story, although it wouldn’t be difficult to fall for such a handsome dancer!
Next came Irina Grigorian and Elena Lev, who performed a bit of a hula hoop duet to Ronan’s ‘Love It When We Do’. Lev performed on a podium on the ice and created some fantastic shapes and positions with her hoops, whilst Grigorian skated around her also with several hoops. It was hard to know who to concentrate on and despite one fall from Grigorian the performance was very enjoyable.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy performed again to Ronan’s ‘We’ve got tonight’ which he sang as a duet with one of the lovely backing singers, and again it was a beautiful, romantic performance. They have such an impressive flexibility and elegant quality to their movements: it was a joy to watch.
In an odd number Fiona Gabrielle and Dmitri Sukhanov – the lift specialists were joined on the ice by Shizuka Arakawa for what can only be described as sort of a ‘tag-team’ performance to another Ronan song, ‘If tomorrow never comes’. I can only assume that this had previously been two performances and was then condensed down to one as there was no attempt at interaction or even matching of costumes. Overall I felt Shizuka deserved more ice time and would have liked to have seen a second full performance from her.
The final performance was by Stéphane Lambiel who performed to ‘Father and Son’ by Ronan. This time there were no falls – it was just perfect. His interpretation of the lyrics and the music was a real joy to watch. If possible his spins seemed even faster and more impressive than the first number and most of the audience (myself included) were on their feet applauding the final scratch spin in particular. Incidentally during his bows he finally spotted the banner we were waving like over enthusiastic crazies, he blew us a kiss and gave a cheesy two handed thumbs up. At this point I was screaming like a teenager, but I wasn’t the only one – my friend had got in on the act too!
Then it was time for the finale. Ronan performed ‘Life is a Roller Coaster’ and the principle skaters of the evening (Kevin Van Der Perren, Sinead and John Kerr, Shizuka Arakawa, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Stéphane Lambiel) performed a short encore, (either a lift or spin in most cases). The skaters had several laps of honour as Ronan sang Van Morison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. We (along with another girl who was seated near us) were still waving the banner like crazy and kept getting many of the skaters waving back at us.
Overall it was an amazing show. Despite reports that it wasn’t as good a show as some of the Swiss dates, it certainly lived up to my expectations; as I explained to my friend before we went to the show ‘Dancing on Ice on T.V is like a rusty old Skoda, where as Art on Ice is like a top of the range Ferrari’. The show did indeed have all the style, quality, performance and possibly the price tag of such a top of the range event. I’m looking forward to next year already!