Sewing, glueing and celebrating –– behind the scenes of Kevin's & Jenna's shows 

March 26, 2013
By Mireille Geurts
Photos © Absolute Skating by Joy, MG

The end of March is approaching and this means there will be a new edition of Ice Fantillusion, the annual show put on by Belgian's eight time national and two time European medalist Kevin van der Perren and his wife Jenna McCorkell, British ten time national champion. This time the theme of the show will be Jungle, and we are very curious to see what the Ice Fantillusion team has up its sleeve for this edition. With the new show coming up, we thought it would be nice to look back at last year's show, at which we really had a blast, just like we were promised.


Already the title of the show gave away what the show was about. A celebration. But a celebration of what? Ask Kevin and he would say: "Of everything!" The Ice Fantillusion show was organized for the fifth time, which in itself was worth celebrating. Making it the theme of the anniversary show, Kevin, his wife Jenna McCorkell and his team decided to include all holidays, including Christmas, Halloween and even summer vacation. A little ‘theme of its own' was also the celebration of Kevin's long lasting competitive career, which he had just concluded at the 2012 World Championships.

Five years of Ice Fantillusion reminded me that I had already seen the shows in Liederkerke, Belgium, that many times. Would that mean there wouldn't be anything new for us to see? The answer was fairly simple: NO. It surely didn't mean that.

Aside the new décors promised by Kevin, new costumes and a great soundtrack, there was a lot of new stuff to be seen like props and moves.

Something the Ice Fantillusion team always excels in is to pull the audience into the story they are telling. This, and the fact that most of the skaters are children, is what set this show apart. Some parts of the décor or costumes may be recycled and even certain steps in the choreography, but because of the different settings, one never feels like having seen it before. A lot of work, time, effort and love are put into creating new props, as well as new choreography, and it shows. Speaking of the time needed, to not only organize this all, but also to create most of these things by hand, it proved to be very difficult this time. Kevin planned to end his competitive career after the European Championships in January, which would have given him a good three months to work full time on all these activities. But injury threw a wrench in this plan, and having to withdraw at Europeans, Kevin ended up closing his competitive career at the World Championships in Nice, taking place the third week of March.

"The time we lost because I ended up competing at Worlds could not be recovered. I had to do in just four weeks what I had planned to do in three months. I felt I couldn't ask people to take time off from their jobs to do tasks I normally would have done myself. So ever since I came back from Nice I spent day and night at the ice rink," Kevin said half laughing and a half groaning. Jenna went a little more into the specifics:

"We have done a lot of preparing and had a lot of ideas and it has been a lot of fun. But it has been really hard as well as we hadn't counted on the new time factor. And I spent a lot of time in Scotland before Worlds, so everything we planned to do just couldn't happen. We literally worked day and night after Worlds. I worked on the costumes during training time, but to be fair, we did have the majority of the costumes done before January. We went through the costumes and the designs in September and bought the fabric since we knew what we wanted. But the props… all that Kevin was going to make, it was unsure if it would get done. For the number with the tables, the skaters would be wearing gold tops, but I didn't want to make them before I knew the tables would actually be done. Because what would we do with the tops without the tables?"

That those tables hadn't been finished until literally two days before the shows, I can testify. They were the first things I stumbled over when walking into the ice rink on Wednesday. Kevin, Jorik Hendrickx, Jelle Butzen and David Richardson were actually gluing and stapling the parts together, in the doorway to the ice. I stepped into the dressing room and found Jenna by the sewing machine with Isabelle Pieman sitting behind her, both sewing straps to the golden sparkly tops by hand. Yeah, even the stars of this show helped with everything around it, creating a tight team spirit. Jenna at the sewing machine was a new sight to me:

"All the kids decided to buy me a sewing machine for my new year's present." Jenna laughed. " It was quite a trick. I've been wanting to sew for so long; I've always been interested in it. I already make the design for all my students, and then the woman who does my costumes actually makes them. The kids didn't know what to get me, and Marleen asked: ‘would you like a sewing machine?' And I go: ‘Yeah!' I grabbed things and started playing, the first thing I made was the feather skirts. And then I made the gold tops with the denim shorts. Charlotte's mom Cathy helped me, she cut all the patterns and pinned them and I sewed them. The worst thing I could have possibly started with was that denim, it was the flippiest material for sewing. I wouldn't stop before I got them done though, I got completely addicted."

Does that mean she will start making her own competition costumes now? "Probably not, I want to learn more though. But for now me and my kids will keep going to my dressmaker Jo and learn more, because I can make some things, but you don't want to look at the insides of the garment. As long as they are staying on the kids though…"

But Jenna did more than sewing. The IF team put a lot of work, effort, time and love (or should we say blood, sweat and tears?)  in the show:

"I got involved in every part of the show this time: the costumes, but also the props. I put the lights on the castle tops, one by one… We used strings, but they had to be put through holes. So Kevin drilled every hole, and I glued them in with a glue-gun; you could only do one at a time. It was the worst thing, I am not kidding, at some point I was crying while putting them in! And I was thinking it better blooming look good, otherwise I am going to have even more of a breakdown. Maybe we can reuse them later. Kevin reckons we can take all the lights out, but I told him that he´d have to do it; for sure I am not taking them out! They are glued, and you would have to break all the glue off!"

Well, Jenna, they blooming looked great. Walking into the ice rink, I was immediately enchanted by the magic castle and yes, by its lights. And this was at a dress rehearsal, so I hadn't even seen it in full show-lights yet. Speaking of lights, some that could change colors hung above the ice, and there were spotlights to enhance the atmosphere and create some spectacular moments. When the audience walked into the ice rink, it was set up in such a way that they couldn't really see the décor yet. It was kept dark, with only the little lights in the dark fabric to the sides showing, and a veil hung in front of the castle. After Kevin welcomed everybody and the show took off with the very appropriate "Let's go and Celebrate", the veil was pulled up while the lights came on, revealing the beautiful castle. I heard people going ooh and aaw, several times.

With that, the show was in motion. Literally. Two groups of the Ice Fantillusion kids (the gold and red groups) dressed in jeans, gold and rainbow dresses filled the ice. They waved their pompons and got the celebration going. The gold group, also clad in jeans, almost immediately demonstrated that they hadn't just improved their skating skills, but that choreography wise several new moves had been acquired. This was something I continued to notice throughout the shows.

Now you may wonder what I mean by those colors and groups. The kids performing in the shows were all divided into groups according to their skating level, and these groups were defined by the colors blue, red and gold.

Jenna explained: "The choreography is based on these divisions. We start from the level the kids are at, that is why we have the color groups. As the students progress, we always try to add new elements to it, It is just to try it out and then to practice, practice."

Or like Kevin put it: "It isn't always that easy, especially when it comes to putting in words what you have in your head. But once we manage that it is mostly trial and error, trial and error."  

The specific move we discussed were one group forming a wheel, while the other group skated through them, ducking underneath their linked arms. (photo above in pink) And also where some of the girls, standing on one knee, formed a circle while the other part of the group skated around them, leaning on them for support while making spirals (one leg in the air). I have the same problem Kevin mentions though, so I figure a picture probably explains this better than my words.

A big portion of the first act of the show was the celebration of Halloween. This was also my favorite part of this act. I was amazed at how simple the idea for the Halloween ghost costumes seemed, and how effective these became in the show lights. Being very dark in the arena, with mostly blue lights, the sheet-like costumes lit up perfectly. Faces became unrecognizable because of black illusion fabric. The steps for the ensembles seemed designed for the costumes to flow as ghost-like as possible, and those parts were mixed with room for most of the ‘solo' skaters to step into a villain role, and this all set to a spooky but fun and upbeat soundtrack.

"'For this is Halloween', I changed the original lyrics. The song is about the town of Halloween, and that didn't fit in with what I wanted, I wanted to portray a night and world of Halloween. I then searched for words in other things without music [spoken text without background noise] to mix them into basic chosen songs. That cost me a lot of work and a lot of cussing and wanting to throw the computer out the window", Kevin laughingly told us. How does he select most songs for the show?

"I prefer to have a melody which I can repeat several times in different variations (like in a musical). But [as you can see in the example above] I most certainly look at the lyrics as well."

Last November, Kevin was a contestant in "Sterren op de dansvloer" which is the Belgian version of the show known as "Strictly come dancing" and he ended up winning the show in January. I bring this adventure up, as he demonstrated there that he loves to work with fire, which you can check out in his last dance in the last episode (the free style) here:
"Sterren op de dansvloer's" Kevin & Charissa's last dance

But not solely there, in previous Ice Fantillusion shows there have been numbers with fire as well. In this one, he combined a very nice program together with Jorik, Jelle and David, all dressed up in black with ribbons around their arms to a remix of the Firebird Suite and Hellfire. As you can see in the video we embedded here, Jelle, Jorik and David started out the performance, then Kevin took over with his torches and in the end the three guys closed the number. Magnificent!

These skaters are familiar names to the Ice Fantillusion visitors, all having been in more than one previous edition of the show. Usually these skaters are wonderfully interwoven in the show's story and choreography, but they also have cold spots of their own. Jenna talked about how they made it so that those also fit the shows:

"This year we told them what music they should skate to. Normally, we kind of let them pick something, but this year we told them which theme they were going to be in. For David, well, we know that he will be funny and entertain the crowd. Actually, he did part of his program as a joke during the rehearsal, and we were all like: ‘David, that is really good, you should do it in the show!' We gave Jorik the music, and he found it quite difficult, it was a bit out of his comfort zone, so he had it choreographed. I gave Amber the music too, and actually choreographed it. Kaat did her own, and Isabelle (Pieman) also picked her own music."

With Amber, she meant the talented Amber de Maerschalk, one of their own students, who performed the cutest number to "Itsy bitsy teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikini" and played a part in a lot of the other group-choreographies. Kaat van Daele is the current Belgian champion, who has competed in the European Championships in Sheffield and Zagreb. We always enjoy watching her skate in the show, especially in the power numbers with the other girls, like the whole Lady Gaga sequence "Beautiful monster / Show me your teeth / Bad romance" that followed. There are many skaters who have a sort of solo in this show. Like Jorik's sister Loena, Indra de Leeneer, Naomi Verdeyen, Eline Anthonissen and Jelle Butzen. Jelle, whom we followed in his Ketnet adventure (link) did a great impression of Charlie Chaplin, which we watched him create on the ice the week before the show. Unfortunately, he stopped (competitive) skating after an injury.

"I love having Jelle in the show. Even though he doesn't train at the moment, he is a real entertainer, and he fits in well with the other skaters and the themes," Kevin said.

It sounds like there are a lot of solos in the shows, but actually when you watch it, it doesn't feel that way. Usually the solos are interwoven in the story or the theme and/or they have an intro/outtro by the ensemble.

"I don't want too many solos," Kevin explained. "I want to set up more of a 'production', a story line, a décor that suits the plot with fitting costumes etc, and only occasional solos where they fit in the story/theme. So it's not like Art on Ice, or Stars on Ice etc. Don't get me wrong, those are really good shows, but they aren't the kind of productions I want to create. But I would love to skate in them too; just give me a call, and I will be on the plane tomorrow! I really am interested in skating in shows. That is why I keep training, so when they ask me, I can show my triple-triple-triple. I wouldn't want to perform with only two triple toeloops. I want to stay in shape technically, and be able to show the most difficult elements."

Dreamily he added:

"There are things they do I would love to do in Ice Fantillusion though, like flying above the ice in silk, but we don't have the budget for it."

Now, we have heard rumors about this year's show, and the theme being Jungle... but let's not go there (yet, because we surely will go)... What if money wouldn't be an object?

Jenna: "We would bring in a lot more lights and a lot more Swarovsky's and a lot more everything. But we actually don't need all the money in the world. We need 'just-enough money' to be able to make something with it all. So if we had sponsors to cover all the expenses; that would be ideal."

Kevin's mind took things a step further:

"If I would have an unlimited budget and no limitations, it would be like this show, but times ten. Better sound, many more special effects, a décor that can rotate automatically, more intricate and special costumes, I would ask skaters like Michal Brezina or Carolina Kostner to come…"

Those skaters are still competing though where Kevin is not. So he also used the show as a 'goodbye' to that aspect of his career. This kicked off with the very familiar tunes of Safri Duo. This part started not just with Kevin, but with an entire group doing the feature opening moves of his short program together. This looked very cool and immediately brought a smile to my face, which only got wider as Kevin did more and more of his well-known choreography. An extremely nice tribute!

Where this brought a smile to my face, I actually got chills to "My Way - This is the Moment". Not really possible for me to transform that into words, so I'll leave Jenna to it:

"'My way' was a perfect fit for memories (just as Safri Duo). With this show we wanted to bring a lot of fun to the audience, nothing too serious. Just fun and to enjoy. It is Kevin's way of… it is his way or no way. Anyone who ever worked with him knows that." She laughed. " Yeah, we just wanted people to enjoy the show. We are very proud to be able to have done all of that."

And they surely can be. This show is different from others like Holiday on Ice and Disney on Ice in many ways. Not least because of all the kids participating in it. But also the level of everyone's involvement; it makes it a lot more personal and emotional. Jenna continued:

"We choose everything. We choose the costumes, we choose the music, we make the music, the choreography… We make it exactly how we want it, and then we perform in it. It is not like we create everything and then just sit back and watch it. No, we perform in a lot of numbers. It's not like you have one person doing one side, and another doing that. I think that's what makes it quite different. We know when someone's not comfortable in a costume. I am always checking with the girls, is that comfortable, can you go for it one hundred percent?"

And that is the feeling they manage to bring across, but not consciously. Because when asking Kevin what his aim was, he responded:

"That you enter into another world with an entirely different atmosphere. I think that really worked out with the lights and everything, because I heard that from several spectators. They immediately made the switch to another world, and it wasn't even a complicated setup this time. Just a good party. But I won't know for sure if it worked out until I see the DVD." He laughs.

Well Kevin, it worked out! It always does. As I started this article we had been to five editions of Ice Fantillusion, and we have never been disappointed. And we do not expect to be disappointed this next time either. With all the plans Kevin has, not everything can even be executed.

"I really wanted to do 101 Dalmatians as well, I have actually wanted that every year, but it always ends up on the chopping block. Maybe next time!"

Well, not sure if there will be any Dalmatians in the jungle, but who knows...?

I do know for sure that we will get to relive the adventures of Mowgli, Tarzan, Simba and Pocahontas, which are very different stories, set to very different sorts of music. This will probably make it a very varied and interesting show, and I for one am very curious about this new experience. Make sure to come to Liedekerke on 29 - 31 March to find out!

For more info about the upcoming shows and to get tickets, check here:

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