Music on Ice 2023

January 8, 2024
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Anna Bertoloni

We've been covering "Music on Ice" since 2012, and it has always been a pleasure to start a year with this enchanting show. As we look forward to "Music on Ice" 2024, scheduled for January 19th and 20th, let's recall last year's performances and reveal a few details about the upcoming spectacular.

"Once upon a time," the story of "Music on Ice 2023: At the Festival" went, "a City of Castles hosts a musical festival and a competition between styles and generations. Young and old are ready to present their beliefs and passions during a whole day of reverberant battles. Rock 'n' roll and classics will compete on the ice in a comparison of lifestyles, colours, and movements." The cast, taking part in those "battles," like always, didn't disappoint: Mariah Bell, Ryan Bradley, Samuel Contesti, Annette Dytrt and Yannick Bonheur, Alexia Paganini, Deniss Vasiljevs, Stéphane Lambiel, Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri. And, of course, local kids - numbers with those always add some special charm - and Ginevra Lavinia Negrello, a young talent from Varese, just a short ride from Bellinzona to neighboring Italy.

A few years ago, in our interview with the creator of the show, Laurent Tobel explained: "I choose the skaters not so much for their titles - of course, they are very important; we want to work with elite skaters - but we choose them for what they bring to the show, based on their capability of acting and becoming a part of it. Every time we choose the skaters, there is a very deep analysis of what they can bring and how we can use their qualities to their greatest potential."

Four-time Swiss national champion, Alexia Paganini, agrees: "Laurent chooses a really good cast every time. It's not always about how many titles people have, but I think he chooses really interesting skaters, skaters that are really good at performing in shows. He has a really good eye for picking the cast out."

It was Alexia's second time with "Music on Ice," and she was glad to be back: "It's always fun to skate in 'Music on Ice' because Laurent is a really creative person to work with, and he always has a cool story, interesting transitions that you wouldn't normally do at shows... So I enjoy coming here because he has a different approach than other producers. And also, the public in Ticino is really fun to skate for; they're always in the music, they appreciate the art of skating."

"Performing with live singers is obviously challenging because it's not exactly the same every time; it sounds different than what you've been practising. But I enjoy it because you can feed off the live energy and really connect with the singer. It brings something special to the show, new energy where you're not only connecting with the audience but also connecting with the singer," she added. (Don't miss the full version of this talk here.)

The timing of the show is traditionally close to the European championships (usually, unlike this season, it happens a week or two before them), but athletes say that participation in it is not a distraction for them; on the contrary, it helps them in their preparations.

This season, the skating world definitely noticed Italians Lucrezia Beccari and Matteo Guarise, silver medalists at the 2023 CS Nebelhorn Trophy, and bronze and silver medalists in the Grand Prix series, but a year ago, they were just a recently formed, up-and-coming pair with a fourth-place finish at their first international competition together, Warsaw Cup 2022. Hence, they were grateful to have an additional chance to perform their programs before the audience.

"Doing shows was good training for me, especially at 'Music on Ice' where we performed our short program," Lucrezia said. "Actually, we really love doing shows before competitions," Matteo added. "Some skaters prefer not to do that because [during the show] you might get tired or even get injured. But for us, being a new team, we really need to get the feeling that light, music, and the audience create. It can teach us to better show our emotions. Performing our programs in shows helped us a lot. In the six months of our training, it helped us to be together more, to bring this feeling of when even if I don't look at her, I know where she is."

Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who just a week after the show went home with their first European gold, agreed: "Both nights we performed our rhythm dance. It's going to be good practice, although we're not doing twizzles because this rink is smaller. It's always difficult to adjust when you need to completely change the direction of the twizzles [because of the size of the rink]; it might be a bit messy. And so, we will be replacing it, and also, the lift will be the one for the exhibition. Still, it's going to be a good exercise."

It was their second time with "Music on Ice," while the first one was in April 2022. Due to COVID restrictions, the show was postponed to a later date, and they say having such a show after the season ends has its own advantages. "I think skaters enjoy doing shows at the end of the season more because mentally you're freer and you're even more thrilled to perform. Shows are always exciting, but at the end of the season, they are even more fun to do," Marco explained. "In April, it was also really nice because it was sunny and warm outside, we could also walk around. It was a lovely experience," he added. (Check the full version of our interview here.)

Among the highlights of the 2024 edition was Deniss Vasiljevs' new exhibition program choreographed to "Dos Oruguitas" from Disney's 2021 feature film "Encanto." Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and performed by SebastiƔn Yatra, this heartfelt ballad tells a story of two caterpillars falling in love but having to let each other go so that later on they will be able to reunite "on the other side," as butterflies. Critics picked "Dos Oruguitas" as the best track for its "emotional resonance and beautiful sentimentality." And Deniss depicted it so beautifully!

He said that he actually got acquainted with this song at the rink, during the practice of their younger group. Indeed, this song received numerous nominations and awards and is very loved by the younger audience. Yet back then, he still hadn't had time to watch it. "In any case, I usually always try to find my own representation, my own perception [of the music]," he clarified. "I understand the lyrics [of the song], the nice/warm feeling [this song gives], and I mostly try to portray this emotion and not to be a copycat [of the story]."

And, of course, every program Stéphane Lambiel presents makes you feel grateful that you were there to witness again the miracle of his art. His first program, to "Lost" by Dermot Kennedy, was choreographed during the COVID pandemic. It's a beautiful ballad. And the program, pensive and floating, tells a story we all can relate to. Sometimes we're lost, not sure about where to go, what to do, our "sense of wonder is just a little tired," we're disoriented, trying to get back home. And the solution Stéphane proposes is to let go and follow our hearts, to commit to what we feel is right, and then things will get clearer, and we'll see our next step.

Stéphane's collaborations with choreographers from outside the skating world (Antonio Najarro, Octavio de la Roza, Kenta Kojiri), his continuous quest for new forms and expressions of his art always brought exciting and distinct output. His second program, "This Bitter Earth," created by street dancer, performer, and creator Khoudia Toure, went a few steps further.
"She pushed me beyond my comfort zone," Stéphane admitted. It's not only the intentional fall choreographed into the routine or lying on the ice, standing on knees, sharp "broken" movements atypical for skating; it's also the usage of the voice. In certain moments, Stéphane moans, shouts... "That was something I was a bit afraid of, but Khoudia wanted me to use my voice as a weapon, as an expression of what I feel, where I am, and what is happening." Stéphane steps outside his comfort zone as a performer and makes us do the same as spectators. Emotions feel strong and raw; the program is brutal, heart-wrenching, almost physically painful to watch; it distresses, makes you shudder. "We all go through pain, physical or mental. We all struggle and pass obstacles one by one. And the concept of this program is also about that: we all have obstacles; nevertheless, we're advancing. It's fine if sometimes things don't go well, even if it's painful, dark, difficult, life still goes on; we have hope and light within that continues [burning]. So it's not to have pain for the sake of pain, [the main idea is] to give hope."

And then there is an improvisation, something Stéphane has never done before. Although his skating always looks free-spirited, spontaneous, and flowing, it is actually structured and choreographed to a tee. But not this time. Certain parts of the choreography are open for improvisation, so this program never looks the same; "it really depends on the moment, on the atmosphere and situation." One day, the subject he would want to convey is emptiness, perishability, hollowness, and the other day, the image in his head might be fire. "Sometimes it's something very bright, and sometimes it's darker; sometimes it's more aggressive, and sometimes more light... It's beautiful to perform it because I really need to be connected to myself."

So what should we expect in less than two weeks? "Astra," an Artificial Intelligence recently installed in the City of Castles, will try to help its citizens in their search for the recipe for the brightest emotion that exists, happiness. Thanks to AI's wise and targeted advice, with excitement and amazement, they will discover the myriad ways to achieve this ambitious goal. But will the growing technology understand the wonderful nuances of human happiness?
Two intense and exciting hours of entertainment will project you into an imaginary future, where the tragicomic style of "Music on Ice" will illuminate joys and sorrows, artists and skaters, singers and actors, and perhaps offer a moment of reflection on the new year that begins.

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