Dancing On Ice: From Competitive Skating to Expressive Art

Maeve Fairbanks

Montreal-based performing arts group Le Patin Libre (which means "The Free Skate" in French) is coming to Hanover April 13-15 for the American premiere of their show Murmuration on ice at Thompson Arena. The group is made up of 15 former figure skaters who gravitated away from skating for sport to create works of art through ice and glide.

"The difference between figure skating and what we do is that figure skating is somewhere between a sport and a talent show. What we do is just performing art," Le Patin Libre founder Alexandre Hamel said. "We don't attempt to have a system of judgment. It's an art form. You come see the show, you clap if you like it. Figure skaters also do shows, but they are often about competition. We're just purely about choreography and art."

Murmuration is the third show created by Le Patin Libre, but the first show they've performed with a group of this size. With 10 new performers, the group's size makes it possible to replicate a murmuration, which is the flight pattern of birds such as starlings or pigeons as they move through the sky. The group is also fascinated by the movement of schools of fish.

"We were inspired by the aerial patterns birds make in big flocks," Hamel said. "Many dances are inspired by these beautiful flock movements, but it doesn't always work because you need a fluent movement through space. As skaters, our movements are fluid, we glide. We are not only inspired by murmurations, we can be one. We can replicate it."

Some of the performance is choreographed, and some of the performance is improvised. While the performers plan a storyline and, accordingly, which direction to move across the ice and when, the exact way that the movement happens is unpredictable. 

"It's like spaghetti, no one can plan how the noodles will lay in spaghetti," Hamel said. "We can create a structure and an experience, but the specific way a murmuration will move during the show, it's chaos. It replicates nature, where beauty doesn't come from order. The formation is too numerous and too complex. [Our skaters] adapt to errors, and use errors to contribute to the beauty. Each show is an adventure."

The unpredictability of the murmuration is one of the most exciting parts about the performance to Hamel, who found the rigid choreography of figure skating boring at times, and often found his mind wandering during programs. During Le Patin Libre's skating shows, the performer's minds are always busy. 

Hamel hopes Murmuration will both entertain and inspire the audience. 

"We took figure skating and we made it something different. The same thing can be done with everything," Hamel said. "You can start with something that doesn't satisfy you, and you can be creative and change it to make it satisfy you. It's freeing."
At its core, Murmuration depicts the story of a large group dealing with complexity and having trouble because of it, but ultimately solving those troubles as a group. 

"In this world, we're a big group of humans and things are too complex for us and we're in trouble," Hamel said. "We thought of that when we created the show. I hope the spectators share a part of that reflection."

Learn more and get tickets to the performance here.