Review: Le Patin Libre – The Rule of 3 - Brixton Ice Rink

Performance: 12 January 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Tuesday 15 January 2013

Le  Patin Libre 'The Rule of 3'

Think of ice skating, and you might think of camel spins and toe loops, of Tonya Harding landing a triple axel, or of Torvill and Dean’s breathtaking performance at the Winter Olympics in 1984. Like ballet and ballroom dance, ice skating has a visual language of its own, of dazzling leaps and daring lifts connected with that particular gliding motion that only comes from the ice. The word skating instantly conjures up images of ice princesses in sequinned tunics, pretty choreography strong on entertainment but low on profundity.

Canadian troupe Le Patin Libre (The Free Skate) aims to develop figure skating with a new contemporary approach to skating, and The Rule Of 3 is to Holiday On Ice what Lloyd Newson is to Marius Petipa. The piece embraces a pedestrian aesthetic with few showy jumps and more of an emphasis on careful, minimalist unison and theatrical passages of near-stillness. Being contemporary, the trio of performers of course end up skating in their underpants; perhaps they should be grateful that the show wasn’t choreographed by fellow Canadian Dave St-Pierre, or they’d be sliding across the ice wearing even less.

We open with choreographer Alexandre Hamel struggling to put on his boots and taking his first, cautious, wobbly steps across the ice. Soon he is joined by Taylor Dilley and the remarkably long-limbed Samory Ba; the three glide around the ice in silent unison and eventually break into a jazzy Fosse-inspired number. The sparkly waistcoats and high-kicking energy of the routine please an invisible audience, but all is not well with our trio of skaters who are soon revealed to be in group therapy for some unknown condition.

The piece moves between silent scenes showing the performers in abject silence, slumped on metal chairs in their discussion group, and vignettes in which the men are shown literally trying to break free from the ice rink, plunging into the plastic walls, or braiding up and down the rink together with an effortlessness that seems to elude the three in their therapy sessions. These might be retired skaters unhappy with their lot, or disturbed patients who only dream they are ice dancers; The Rule Of 3 switches between apparent reality and fantasy without truly revealing which is which.

Towards the end, Ba makes a break for freedom by exchanging his skates for trainers. The others at first applaud but then won’t let him leave, physically dragging him back into a world of skating that may or may not be real. It’s here the three cast off their clothes, and they seem to find some kind of liberty in a free-flying trio skated to syrupy popera classic Con Te Partirò. By giving themselves over completely to the cheesiness of the score, the performers now find in their work an undeniable joy and beauty.

Audiences looking for figure skating stunts or showdance on ice won’t find either here – The Rule Of 3 is a more thoughtful and philosophical show that enquires into the very nature of ice skating. There are tropes that dance audiences have undoubtedly seen before – the sections performed without music, the deliberate falls and ungainly accents, the bits where nobody seems to be skating at all, the silence – and yet it’s refreshing to see these figures carried across to a new medium. Figure skating is certainly long overdue a shake-up, and if Le Patin Libre can help bring it spinning and lutzing into the 21st century then very good luck to them indeed.

Last chance to catch Le Patin Libre’s The Rule Of 3, Alexandra Palace, 20 January, 5pm
More details & booking:

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