On The Frozen Pond: The Magic Of Skating Outside


Winter may be giving way to be spring but there's just something so fabulously primitive, so instinctive and so historic about the simple act of skating outside that lingers in our memories. People started skating on frozen rivers and lakes thousands of years before us and for many years even Olympic and World competitions were held in the throws of mother nature. Competitors battled challenging ice conditions, frigid cold and the elements all in the quest to better their craft, fueled by their love of the ice. From Madison Square Garden to Sun Valley to the Rideau Canal and even the Emera Oval right here in Halifax I went skating only months ago, outdoor skating remains hugely popular to this very day. There's simply something magical about it. That intangible quality is well explained by skaters' affinity for outdoor ice. Shows in Sun Valley draw skaters and audiences alike year round, and many of the world's best skaters have returned to frozen lakes, ponds and even glaciers to carve out moments on the ice.


Kurt Browning's first TV special, 'Tall In The Saddle' featured many outdoor skating scenes with the backdrop of an old western town, including a performance where Kurt skates with Michael Slipchuk and Norm Proft and an old fashioned spaghetti western showdown between Kurt and Gary Beacom. Later in the special, Kurt skates a outdoor "Lake Of Dreams" program full of his energy, flair and that magical something that is definitely Kurt Browning.


Brian Boitano and Brian Orser (Olympic medallists and World Champions both) also turned to outdoor ice in their respective television specials. Orser performed "The Story Of My Life" by Neil Diamond, a signature program dedicated first to his fans then later as a tribute to his late mother and choreographed by both Uschi Keszler and David Wilson over the years, outside in his 1988 TV special Skating Free. I've always loved this program whenever Brian skated to it but there was truly something just that little bit more magical and organic about this outdoor performance that really came from its setting. Likewise, Brian Boitano's well known outdoor "Water Fountain" performance choreographed by Sandra Bezic and skated outside on a rink built on a glacier in Alaska still stands as one of the most beautiful skating moments captured on film. His progression from a waltz jump to single Axel, double Axel and triple Axel and soaring spread eagle in the northern sun were almost as breathtaking as the act of skating in a setting so awe inspiring.


Perhaps the program that captured the mood and the essence of skating outside best wasn't even skated outside at all. Robin Cousins skated an exquisite and haunting program called "On The Frozen Pond" to a recording of him orating the poems "The Skaters" by John Gould Fletcher and "Hawkshead" by William Wadsworth at the 1993 World Professional Figure Skating Championships and you could literally hear a pin drop. Blurring the lines between the beatnik poetry of the Dead Poet's Society and the purity of a frozen pond, Cousins takes you away in this program to another place and another time and captures in its utmost essence the feeling of skating outside that is intangible, magical and bigger than us all. The poetry and skating of "On Frozen Pond":

"THE SKATERS" BY JOHN GOULD FLETCHER

"BLACK swallows swooping or gliding
In a flurry of entangled loops and curves;
The skaters skim over the frozen river.
And the grinding click of their skates as they impinge upon the surface,
Is like the brushing together of thin wing-tips of silver."

EXCERPT FROM "HAWKSHEAD" FROM "THE PRELUDE" BY WILLIAM WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

"AND in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
It was indeed for all of us,—for me      
It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud
The village clock tolled six,—I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games      
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,—the resounding horn,
The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle; with the din      
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;
The leafless trees and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars      
Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,      
To cut across the reflex of a star
That fled, and, flying still before me, gleamed
Upon the glassy plain; and oftentimes,
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks on either side      
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion, then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me,—even as if the earth had rolled      
With visible motion her diurnal round!
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep."

ON THE FROZEN POND


"And in the frosty season when the sun was set", Robin Cousins did what he did best: bring absolute magic to life and skate the poetry of the ice.

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Comments

  1. Brian Orser's program was filmed at Lake Louise, in Alberta. Beautiful place year 'round!

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