The First 25 years It was 1976 and three coaches with new/old visions for skating found themselves teaching together at the Racquet Club of Victoria, Canada.
The late Frank Nowosad, enamoured of both skating and dance, had proposed in Skating Magazine that skating companies equivalent to those in dance should be formed to pursue skating as a serious art form. He felt strongly that there should be goals for skaters and choreographers other than amateur competition and “glitzy” professional shows. With the help of The Canada Council for the Arts and with the empathetic partners he found in myself and Mary Rose Thacker Temple, Canada Ice Dance Theatre was born.
Mary Rose’s credentials as a skater and coach were impeccable; she had been Canadian and North American Champion and a long-time successful coach. I had been on the North American Team, had taught for more than twenty years and was at this time Director of Education for The Figure Skating Coaches of Canada. Both Mary Rose and myself had been trained in dance, Mary Rose at the Royal Winnipeg and I at The National Ballet of Canada. Frank, as well as being a competitive pair skater, had been a scholarship student at the Banff School of Fine Arts where he combined studies in art with training in skating at Osborne Colson’s rather “arty “ school where Osborn was training, among others, the now well-known choreographer Sara Kawahara.
Starting an artistic skating company is sheer madness unless one has endless determination and very deep pockets We had only the former. Common sense would have rejected the idea, yet we three embarked on this foolish course with light hearts and great excitement. The winds of social change were blowing strongly by the middle 70’s and skating was not immune to its pressures. This rather staid sport, famously conservative, was being shaken by a few skaters, notably Toller Cranston amongst them. They, like we, were looking for something in skating beyond mere technical excellence.
There had been, throughout skating’s relatively short history, wonderfully creative skaters, but there had not been companies dedicated to small group ensemble work. We set out to form a dance company on ice dedicated to pursuing skating as a serious art form and emphasizing ensemble work. This has been Canada Ice Dance Theatre’s mandate.
Many were eager to join us in our project. That first spring and summer CIDT invited skaters to attend a three-week workshop to be followed by several weekly performances throughout the summer at the Racquet Club of Victoria. Interesting skaters came from all over Canada and the U.S. Help showed up in every way. Hundreds of feet of black corduroy curtains meant to stretch the length of the ice-surface were sewn on industrial machines by friendly Home Economics instructors. Jim Erickson, a skating afficianado, became Stage Manager and unofficial photographer (his recent film credits are Set Decorator for Gorky Park, Little Women and Seven Years in Tibet). Designers, costumers, publicists, and others filled every necessary position.
Dancers of the calibre of Grant Strate, (currently President of the World Dance Alliance, Americas) and the late Earl Kraul, both former principal dancers with the National Ballet of Canada, gave classes and contributed to the ice choreography. Luckily, Mary Rose had a big house to receive these exceptionally generous “imports”.
Tim Brown, a former U.S. Olympic Team member and also a concert pianist under the name Jamie Catalpa, gave music appreciation classes.Tim was, in some ways, responsible for my bringing Frank Nowosad to Victoria to coach. Meeting Frank for the first time in Edmonton, I remarked that I had seen a narrative competitive skating program at the Canadian Championships in London (in about 1972), and that it may have been a first.. Frank immediately responded with the name of the skater, Karen Gropa and the choreographer, Tim Brown. Further conversation revealed Frank’s interest in skating beyond the competitive form and I felt that in him, on an artistic level, I had found a kindred spirit.
A few years later when Tim joined us for the second workshop in Victoria , it was with full beard and long hair in protest of the Vietnam war; he was definitely counter-culture and anti-establishment (this included anti-ballet, which at times made co-existence difficult). He proved to be an exceptional choreographer. Some of his works composed in Victoria drew upon revolutionary heroes such as Federico Garcia Lorca upon whose poems he choreographed “Night of the Seven Moons”, and most had a literary point of departure. Tim and Clara Hare, an actor and adjudicator, perhaps because of their mutual interest in literature and its close ally, drama, had a particular affinity for working together. Clara remains an advisor and consultant to CIDT to this day.
Clara Hare gave the skating choreographers some points to ponder. Contributing from her traditional drama background, she guided us through our first production in the Commedia Dell’ Arte style. Years later, Frank and I were confidently able to mount what turned out to be our only choreographic collaboration, “A Simple Tale”, with music by Carl Orff. The principals in this later presentation were Stewart Sturgeon, Carena Richardson , Rod Garossino, Henri April and Leanne Sonoda and it was stunningly costumed by Carolyne Curran Knight. Stewart Sturgeon, funny-bone still intact, returns for this season’s latest Comedia production, Lovers and Fools.
Mary Rose, Frank and Tim’s too early deaths cut short their unique contributions to what they hoped skating would become. We all felt that skating had every right to take its place with dignity beside dance and drama in the world of performing arts, that skaters should have the same opportunities as creative dancers and actors to live their working lives in the world for which they have been so highly trained.
The dream which created Canada Ice Dance Theatre in 1976 is, in some measure, a concrete reality and the ideas that spawned it are everywhere. We have seen the kind of work the late John Curry and his company, Moira North’s Ice Theatre of New York, Kevin Cottam’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” production for The National Ice Theatre of Canada in Edmonton, Joanne McLeod’s Ice Theatre of Toronto, Rebecca Safai’s Seattle Ice Theatre and the Directors of The New Ice Age and others have produced, here and in Europe. What they aspire to individually has collectively become a theatrical movement, a movement that depends on a richness of ideas as they are applied to ensemble work as much as it may or may not depend on star names. I believe we can say that the Ice Theatre as a theatrical genre is here to stay.
Ron Vincent, Artistic Director