Review: Le Patin Libre - Vertical - Somerset House Ice Rink

Performance: 12 - 16 January 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Wednesday 13 January 2016

Le Patin Libre 'Vertical' in rehearsal at Somerset House, January 2016.

Performance reviewed: 12 January, 8.30pm

The prospect of sitting outside by the ice rink in Somerset House’s courtyard on a wet, cold January night was daunting. However the five members of Montreal based company Le Patin Libre the free skate, expunged any physical discomfort with their riveting dance on ice, Vertical.

A hit in Dance Umbrella 2014, the performers make skating more compelling and relevant by cutting out the fancy frills and endless virtuosic stunts. They disrupt conventional skating aesthetics, replacing them with an experimental dynamic and inventive form. Instead of ballet or commercial dance conventions, such as gendered partner work or unimaginative displays of technique, Le Patin Libre installs creative choreography, personality and humour – as well as incredible skill.

Four men and one woman introduce themselves one by one, demonstrating each’s idiosyncratic skating styles. Pascale Jodoin moves with immense fluidity and a grounded sensuality, like a hip hop dancer; Samory Ba with a teasing quirkiness as he dances out staccato steps digging his blades repeatedly into the ice; Alexandre Hamel with graceful gravitas as he performs long jetes and spirals. They are all remarkable. Upper bodies bend and fold with contemporary dance flexibility, legs power movements with strength and balance like elegant engines.

What makes Vertical so different to watching dance on stage apart from the obvious setting and genre is the gliding motion – which enables the skaters to travel fast and far on smooth continuous pathways. It’s so satisfying to see them glide together in unison before splintering off into their own solos. Different formations are constructed then dissolved, they work closely as a team, exchanging smiles, making eye contact. In one of the sections, they skate towards the audience at unbelievable speed before peeling off just at the last minute. Lucy Carter’s charismatic lighting captures them in blocks of light and follows them round the rink before plunging them into darkness again.

The skating rink seems vast inhabited by only five people and when they are skating at speed, their fleeting images, reflected on the surrounding windows, add other ghostly presences. Grey, sombre natural light juxtaposes with the theatrical brightness of Carter’s lighting: both add texture and resonance to the sculptural poses of the performers. Jasmin Boivin’s sound track contributes to this atmospheric son et lumière while moments of silence are dramatically interrupted by skate blades cutting into the ice. The grand, historical buildings of Somerset House looming over the ice-rink in the harsh wintry evening are formidable, yet magnificent.

As the skaters glide close to the audience, they search us with their gaze, which is quizzical and discerning. They remind me of a flock of geese, their heads tilted as they check us out. They are wild, free and animated while we are like the contained exhibits, huddled together behind the rink barrier. Immobile and frozen. But it’s worth it.

Le Patin Libre, Vertical
Somerset House, 12 – 16 January 2016

Vertical is a Dance Umbrella Commission, in partnership with National Arts Centre, Canada & Theatre de la Ville, Paris.

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