Le Patin Libre: A new kind of dance in a new space

PITTSFIELD — If you're expecting sequined leotards, classical music and polite clapping at a Le Patin Libre performance, you'll be sadly — or happily — disappointed.

The Montreal-based company doesn't offer traditional, Olympic-sanctioned figure skating events but rather contemporary dances on ice.

The troupe will present its latest work, "Vertical Influences," during Pittsfield's 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival. The Jacob's Pillow Dance pop-up event will be held at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires' rink on Feb. 16; the previous day, the dancers will put on a free show for Crosby Elementary School students and, later, lead a community ice-skating workshop ($10 per person) at the Melville Street institution. Jacob's Pillow Dance Director Pamela Tatge felt that bringing Le Patin Libre's rink dance to Pittsfield was a "perfect" opportunity to highlight the Pillow's year-round programming while also exposing audiences, dance fans and otherwise, to an unconventional performance.

"I'm a firm believer in having dance inhabit new spaces," Tatge said during a telephone interview.

Tatge stressed that the Becket institution wants to continue bringing works to other areas of Berkshire County. Pittsfield is a primary focus; contributing to the City of Pittsfield Office of Cultural Development's annual festival, which runs from Feb. 15-25 this year, has thus made sense.

"We want to build on what's already in the Berkshires," Tatge said.

A troupe similar to Le Patin Libre is hard to find anywhere. While the company's roots can be traced to the cutthroat world of medals and triple axels — Alexandre Hamel was a competitive figure skater before founding Le Patin Libre in 2005, and most of the other members (Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, Taylor Dilley, Jasmin Boivin) have similar training — the group's dancers don't evoke Michelle Kwan or Johnny Weir. They ice-skate in street clothes, using the slippery surface to glide at speeds dancers could never achieve were they to slide across the Doris Duke Theatre. It's contemporary dance on ice, a new genre of sorts.

"It's a very small group of companies that are thinking about this, and I think they're the best," Tatge said.

It isn't a complete departure from figure skating; the twists and turns and leaps certainly invite comparisons to the athletes in Pyeongchang. But it is a break from established figure skating norms, drawing more from B-Boying.

"At first, I think they saw us as some kind of rebellion. In a way they're right," Hamel said of the figure skating community in a piece by The Vancouver Sun's Shawn Conner.

Tatge came away impressed after watching a past "Vertical Influences" performance. The show examines the role of the individual within a group. At times, the five dancers move in unison. At other moments, they circle and cut between one another, introducing soloists before they're brought back into the tribe.

During the second half of the show, audience members sit on the ice as the performance continues. Judith Mackrell, a dance critic for The Guardian, said this is when the work astounds.

"The dancers sweep towards us in a flourish of danger, speed and frozen air. They divide and reform in choreography of exhilarating inventiveness: a solo of staccato footwork that slashes and slices the ice, kaleidoscopic configurations in which limbs and bodies are angled into comic, impossible shapes," Mackrell writes in her five-star review of a 2014 performance at London's Alexandra Palace Ice Rink.

Tatge is similarly effusive.

"What they achieve on ice is extraordinary, it's uplifting," she said, "and it's the kind of thing families should see together because they'll be talking about it for days to come in the kitchen."

If you go...

What: Jacob's Pillow Pop-Up: Le Patin Libre

When: Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.

Where: Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, 16 Melville St., Pittsfield

Tickets: General admission $25; 17 and under get in for $10

Information: After the show, ticket holders can attend an after-party at Methuselah Bar & Lounge with company members Pillow staffers, provided they reserve a spot ahead of time; 413-243-9919; jacobspillow.org

If you go...

What: Jacob's Pillow Community Ice-Skating Workshop led by Le Patin Libre members

When: Thursday, Feb. 15 from 6-7 p.m.

Where: Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, 16 Melville St., Pittsfield

Tickets: $10

Information: A workshop for beginners and experts ages 12 and up. Space is limited; call 413-243-9919 ext. 161 about reservations.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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