Ice Theatre of New York dancers, from left, Joel Dear and Brent Bommentre, work with artistic director Douglas Webster and choreographer Edward Villella, far right.
Express photo by Roland Lane
t’s the tosses that throw dancers off when they’re on the ice.
Dance legend Edward Villella is choreographing a piece for Ice Theatre of New York, “Back Bay Shuffle,” based on one act from a stage ballet he created in 2002. The company, featuring 12 champion ice skater-dancers, will premiere Villella’s work on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Sun Valley Ice Rink as part of its “Ice: Dance” show.
“Of course the great challenge is to take something designed for ballet and move it to ice,” said Villella in an interview at the Sun Valley rink. “A lot of it is pretty similar until it gets to the real flying-around-the-ice stuff. For dancers, to get in the air, we just do one big step and we’re in the air. These guys have to go half a mile backwards.”
Villella smiled. “But it’s a great collaboration,” he said. “The first thing I told these skaters is, ‘I’m not here to change you; we’ll just add things.’ I’m here to service the ice.”
Villella has served the world of dance as a performer for 57 years. He’s worked closely with George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Igor Stravinsky; founded the Miami City Ballet; and danced with the New York City Ballet. His awards include a National Medal of the Arts, Kennedy Center Honors and an Emmy.
Villella first tried his toes on ice in 1977, when he choreographed a Dorothy Hamill TV show (not his greatest achievement, he admits, although he did meet his wife,
former professional skater Linda Carbonetto, on the job). Last year, former skater Dick Button asked him to add his ballet finesse to Ice Theatre of New York.
“I told him I’d do it, but I need somebody to guide me in the ice stuff,” Villella said. “I don’t know how they get in the air, but I can lay out the whole premise.”
Founding director Moira North said that although skaters are a bit limited in the tossing department, “at the same time there are no stages that are as big as an ice rink, so it’s both limiting and expanding. The icy stage is a much larger palette.”
Ice Theatre of New York, founded in 1984, is a nonprofit organization focused on ice dancing as an art form.
The company is in Sun Valley for its third residency. Along with rehearsing new repertoire, the company is offering classes and apprenticeships.
Members of the company include U.S. men’s national champion Ryan Bradley and U.S. bronze medalist ice-dancing pair Brent Bommentre and Kim Navarro.
The “Ice: Dance” show will also feature the debut of a work by modern dance choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi, a former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and modern chair of the Alvin Ailey School.
Her piece, called “This Is Forever,” is based on a work originally choreographed for ballet.
Buglisi said the dance, a romantic ballet that celebrates eternal love, is inspired by a novella written in 1934. “It’s about love at first sight, in the sense that these people meet in heaven, are born on earth in different places, then die and meet back in heaven,” she said. “So it’s also about the cycle of life.”
Villella said “Back Bay Shuffle” will be “diametrically opposed” to what he created for Sun Valley in 2013.
Last year’s “Reveries,” set to Tchaikovsky’s “Elegie,” featured 10 pairs of dancers in a romantic, classical piece. (The company will present “Elegie” again on Saturday.)
Villella decided this year to adapt a ballroom number from his full-length “Neighborhood Ballet.”
I had three guys in tuxes who dance to the music of Artie Shaw,” he said. “The music is jazz, the ‘Back Bay Shuffle.’ It’s a fun sort of thing I thought would be very different from what I had done previously.”
The premise of “Back Bay Shuffle,” he said, “is very simple. It’s three guys in tuxes, out on the town, very jazzy, checking out the ladies. It’s very ’20s, ’30s. It’s music I used to dance to as a kid.”
And then he shuffled off the rink—in a lighthearted, dancelike way.
WHAT: Ice-skating dance show presented by Ice Theatre of New York.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20.
WHERE: Sun Valley Ice Rink, Sun Valley Resort.
COST: $20 general admission, $50 VIP seating, $75 VIP seating and reception.