Making the Magic - a peek behind the curtain

Stories about the Ice Fantillusion shows and organization

July 5, 2014
By Mireille Geurts
Photos © 2014 Absolute Skating by Joy & MG

In May we told you about the magic that happened in Belgium, in this year's edition of the Ice Fantillusion shows. Although aside our perception of the shows, we did include several backstage and organization stories, we just could not include everything. Since we had extensive talks with several of the participants there was a lot still untold. And I do not know about you, but when I go to an (ice) show, I often wonder how on earth they created certain details, came up with some story lines, and managed to realize it all within a tight budget. In other words, how does one put an ice show this size together?

Jenna McCorkell and Kevin Van Der Perren have done this for several years already, so they have a lot of experience. And as it seems, never a shortage of ideas.

"The idea for 'Magical' came from both of us," Jenna stated when we spoke to her on Sunday evening, after the last show. Kevin had told us the day before how they dreamed up the concept 'Magical' already last year. "As you can take it in many directions and it fits for everyone."

However, the original concept looked a lot different than the end result.

"I visualized 'Magical' very literally, so the intention was to use magicians, illusionists and doing tricks on the ice. So I started by contacting several and got quite a shock when hearing their fees. They were way too expensive! And consider you'd need at least 5 tricks per act for it to truly look good.  So we turned over an entirely new leaf to a more fairytale like concept of magic. And I must say, it actually turned out way better than my initial plan!"

Sometimes the best ideas are born out of necessity. I don't think any of the visitors could tell this was not the show intended from the beginning.  Certainly we couldn't, until Kevin told us. But, if you already have your mind set on certain things, isn't in then very hard to change that and come up with new ideas?

"At first yes, I mean nothing from the original soundtrack I had in mind was left. But I started thinking I wanted to use a lot of props; I thought of the pirate ship we used briefly in a previous show, so pirates it would be! Perfect, because Drunken sailor and Pirates of the Caribbean are great pieces of music. They speak to a lot of people and are very fun for the kids to do, as they can play around a lot and not have to be all in sync and such."

I can sure confirm this was a lot of fun for the kids; they were having a ball on the ice. And so did we watching all the mayhem. Mayhem that wasn't without danger...

"When I was held captive in the pirate ship and the pirates were fighting around me, in the Saturday show Amber de Maesschalck and Marthe Demeyer accidently smashed me across the face with one of their swords. It was just plastic, but we were all shocked. They tried to apologize but I told them 'shut up and go on with your fight'," Jenna laughed.
"And that was not the only thing that did not go entirely as planned in the shows. In one of them the spinning wheel was accidently left on the ice, after I, as Aurora, pricked myself on in. And of course I couldn't fetch it, because I was supposed to be asleep, so Jennifer Stone (right) went to get to get it in her Maleficent costume. Her dress got stuck on both sides, and she couldn't get up and nobody could help her. So she had to bum-shuffle across the ice to get off it. Also, in the school show, when I was a sleeping Aurora, David Richardson threw a snowball at me. Try staying in your role then!"

Believe it or not, just like in the mishap anecdote about Jennifer losing her crystal ball we shared in the show article, we did not notice this at all!!

Being able to reuse a prop from a previous show is great; however the costumes for this scene were brand new, as Cathy Adriaens told us:

"None of the pirate costumes fit the skaters anymore, so we had to start from scratch with those."

That made me wonder, aside the constantly growing kids, which is a big challenge; do they also take into account all the different kinds of body shapes?

"We try, whenever possible. With the pirates' costumes it was no problem as they all can be different. But sometimes all the costumes just have to be the same. So we try to do it with invisible adjustments, on the insides of the clothes... or we even use tape."

As we explained in the previous article, Cathy is the mother of Charlotte van der Kar, one of the yearly participants as well as one of the many volunteers helping out with the show, creating a lot of the costumes.

"I try to help out where I can, but the costumes alone are a lot of work, so I cannot do much more. There are way too many skaters (95 this year), and too many acts. During the days the shows take place, I also take care of a lot of on the spot repairs and adjustments, as well as organize/help out with the costume changes. My main task then is making sure everybody is ready on time, wearing the right clothes."

Having to change your costume in a matter of mere minutes, while also wearing sharp blades, can be quite a challenge.

"This year there was so little time in between the acts that we did all the costume changes behind the decor, instead of in the dressing rooms."

Behind the decor? But the decor is put on the ice? And in the dark???

"Yeah, on the ice," Cathy laughed, "but we wore helmets with lights strapped to them, so we could actually see what we were doing."

Just imagine groups of kids doing this simultaneously, in the almost dark, on the ice. Hard!
After the pirates' scene, our 2 leads jump in the water; we get a short underwater scene, mermaids, and finally a spectacular scene with a whale.

"I always wanted to do something with a whale! I didn't want to use Under the sea though, as I want to save that for a future show, but it is so hard to find something else when you already have something in mind. That's why this scene was kept very short; we just let the fish 'swim' around a bit and then continue on with the whale, me being swallowed by it and then escaping through its blowhole," Kevin explained.

The escape was done by Kevin grabbing onto a hook on an iron cable and being lifted out of the whale (see also in the previous article), quite high above the ice.

"I still really want to do something with flying above the ice, really fly, but we can only practice this a day before the show and then you really cannot maximize your result and make it look truly spectacular. We cannot rent professional flying machinery, because it costs 5000 € for a weekend and it would only be 2 minutes of the show. It would truly add something to the show, but that is just too big of a bite out of our budget. Being pulled up in the air like we did now is pretty simple to rehearse, but it still gives a nice show effect."

"Until a week before the show, I didn't think the whale would ever happen," laughed Lotte van den Eynde. "Kevin had told me already in August about this whale, where he would come out using a pulley, which sounded all great, but I had no idea how that could be executed. We laughed a lot about 'his whale' and I think even Kevin himself had doubts at one time. But in the week of the shows he called me onto the ice, and there it was: a whale! And it was huge!"

Lotte is Marthe's sister and we've seen her take part in the shows for many years already. But this year we noticed she was doing more than skating. Kevin told us:

"We needed an extra choreographer this year. I go to Antwerp every Friday to train Marthe, and Jenna was away a lot as well (with her competitive training and competitions) so it is good to have someone close who works with the kids on a constant level. And Lotte really became indispensable! I truly noticed this a while ago as she did her internship on a ship (she is studying nautical science at the Antwerp maritime academy) and we truly missed her. There were many moments of 'yeah hmmm, normally I would text Lotte now, but I can't reach her as she is on a ship, okay, then I have to solve it differently'."

How did she get involved with the show? I asked Lotte and she explained:

"Kevin had asked me to join my sister at practice, because he wanted to ask me something important. I had no idea what it was, so I was very curious during the entire practice session. When I heard he wanted to ask me to be involved in the creation of the show, because Jenna would be very busy, I was so incredibly honored! I always said that if I wanted to do something with skating in the future, it would be in choreography. I created a show program for my sister in the past, but Ice Fantillusion? That's an entirely different level!!! I immediately said 'yes', and a week later I had already gotten a CD with the first music ideas."

Since Lotte was also a regular part of the skaters, I wondered if this caused any problems, or friction?

"In the beginning it was a bit strange. We don't just skate together, we are also friends and we see each other outside the practices regularly. On top of that, I was one of the last to join, so I was a bit worried about the reactions. In the end it was 100 percent okay; everyone is super motivated and for the skaters in my age group it was mostly a matter of explaining some steps. Or create a piece of choreography when Kevin was temporarily out of ideas."

As Lotte already mentioned, the whale was huge. And I truly wondered how Kevin came up with how to create it, but when I asked him, he looked at me, almost not understanding:

"I just drew it? Usually I am with Jeroen Vandevelde and his dad, who is a carpenter. I draw what I want and together we figure out how to make it. It's really only a few tubes and plastic."

Cathy confirmed this: "He can draw really well, he draws all the props and even the costumes, so he can clearly show what is in his head. And take the horses from the second act; he made those entirely by himself, just like the wings in the finale."

That is truly amazing. And very helpful when operating on a tight budget. Kevin continued:

"By now we have a depot as big as an ice rink full of props and large decor pieces. We also train a lot on a dance floor instead of on the ice; we actually create the programs there. The dance studio is next door, it costs 10 € per hour instead of the 37 € per hour we'd have to pay for the ice. And while creating programs, the kids have to stand around a lot, waiting. On the ice they get cold and naturally a bit moody, so this works much better and it is a lot cheaper!"

"That surely helps," Lotte said, "so all the basics were done. I helped mostly with translating the floor choreography to the ice, because especially for the small skaters, that was a bit complicated."

I wondered about her own background in skating.

"I started skating when I was 5 years old and before my mother realized it, it was a hobby getting out of hand. I always loved to skate in galas as well as competing. Until I was 14 years old I competed and sometimes reached the podium. I got good component marks, but I was lacking in the technical department. After this I switched to synchronized skating, I was a part of Team Temptation. My last year I was co-captain and we even made it to the World Championships. And now there is Ice Fantillusion!"

Like every year, the shows featured some synchronized skating moves/figures. I noted in the show article that the skeleton and ghost dance was very fun and how impressed I was by the complicated wheel they formed.

"That was my favorite part! I loved the skeleton costumes, also to skate in. And especially that 'up building wheel' (photo above) together with the ghosts got my adrenaline pumping each time. In practice this went pretty smoothly, but when we had to do it in our costumes, nobody recognized each other! The day before the first show we still had to practice this several times and I was relieved every time it ended well," Lotte recounted.

We had actually seen them practice this, in the costumes and in regular clothes, which was also kind of fun. Finally we knew who were hidden in there! Lotte's sister Marthe (left) had, besides her own solo, also a trio act to Barbie Girl, together with Amber (right) and junior Romanian skater Catalin Dimitrescu. He was in the show for the first time, and a great addition at that.

"He was here 3 weeks early, training with Kevin and me, so obviously he stayed during the shows as well. He does a nice triple loop-triple flip and is a real nice skater as well. He stayed on another week. He became very popular with the kids – he even knocked David Richardson off his throne as THE man last year," Jenna laughed.

"For the Barbie girl number, I first had the idea to chuck Catalin in without Marthe and Amber knowing, but I was afraid that it would go wrong, so we did tell them, and they were so excited."

I'd like to have seen that. The first rehearsal with them in costumes and with the car prop was already a delight to watch, and, for the sake of it being a show with an audience, a smart decision.

"The other international guests, Stacey Kemp, David King, Abbie Foreman and David Richardson were already here a week before as well, and it was really nice to have a full week of rehearsals. Kevin had the whole story in his head, but we were all like 'what, where, when?' It took us a minute to adjust to it, but then it was okay."

Speaking of Stacey and David, besides skating their own solos plus parts in the show where needed, they also did a double death spiral together with Jenna and Kevin. (See in this youtube link how one of their first attemps went. Also, click on photo collage below for a bigger version of it)

Jenna exclaimed: “That was not easy, that was the part I dreaded the most! Every time Kevin and I skate acts together, obviously we are not a true skating-pair, so we kind of make up our own way. I will think of something, but we do not communicate with each other. So I think I need to change something, and he thinks he needs to change something and we do not tell each other, so the next thing I know I am on my face at the other end of the ice rink. We had such moments while practicing the death spiral too, so we were thinking: 'let's hope that never happens in the show'."

Kevin added: "It's hard with two, and I constantly had the feeling David was in my way."

Jenna: “You try to be the one lying down on the ice holding on for dear life and trying to get back up again!!"

We laughed, and then I asked: "Did a pair ever do that? Switch the positions around? You should, that would be unique!"

They laughed, but Jenna reacted: "That would be freaky but hilarious! But no, seriously, about doing the death spiral; it would be different if I knew how, had done it before, but I didn't. Luckily I had Stacey holding me up, she is tiny, but a strong cookie!"

Kevin: "But it was cool to do something different."

Jenna: "My body didn't think so, but okay."

I asked Jenna what she enjoyed the most in the show then.

"I really like the ballroom scene, but actually all of it was fun. I also enjoy Kevin in front of the dragon and the fire etc. That was so cool. We had to put that part in the end of the show, because of the fumes. And we have to skate on it; also obviously the petrol isn't so great for our blades.
But those are the things you know when you are involved in the show, just like the quick changes, and making sure we are in time, and everyone else is in time. Luckily we have a lot of volunteers helping out with that, or it wouldn't even be possible."

Kevin seconded that: 

"I am so, so proud I of Ice Fantillusion and everyone involved in it, including Absolute Skating!  I really see this as my life's work and I hope this is only the beginning of it. To use Patrick Ibens (former ISU judge - ed) words: 'If we'd have the budget of Disney or Holiday on Ice, one wouldn't see a dragon or whale on the ice, but the roof would open and a rocket would come out of the ice'. Ice Fantillusion is a group of people I love to call family. A big fat THANK YOU!"

Well... that couldn't be any clearer.  In our previous article we expressed the hope that there would be another edition. Not too long ago, Kevin posted on his Facebook: " Ice Fantillusion 2015, 24th, 25th and 26th of April!!!!!"

Good news! We'll be there for sure! And we're not the only ones:

"Sure, I'll be there to help as much as I can. Can't abandon Ice Fantillusion, eh?!!"  Cathy offered.

Lotte is also already ready for it.

"Kevin already has loads of ideas and I am so looking forward to it! Despite all the practices, and the driving back and forth to the ice rink, it is so satisfying when you experience the show being a huge success again and knowing that you have been a part of that. So let's make sure that the next edition of Ice Fantillusion is, at the very least, as great as the previous one!"

We have no doubts that it will be. See you in April 2015, at the new Ice Fantillusion shows!

To relive the magic of these shows and to see details told here and in the show article with your own eyes, check out our video reels of Act 1 and Act 2 below.



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