‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ exclaims the Dr. Seuss axiom and as such, Murrayfield Ice Rink on the edge of central Edinburgh is where you must go to find the French Canadian skating troupe Le Patin Libre. While the venue, dating to 1930s, is a charming (albeit far-flung) time capsule of wood and leather fold-down seats and ice rink concessions, what is happening on the ice itself divergences from the old-fashioned surroundings as soon as the quintet enters the rink. With each member a professional skater by trade, Le Patin Libre are on a mission to break the binary in professional skating.
If it sounds like the set up for the plot for The Matrix, it is assuredly not. This is the world of contemporary skating; one which finds the middle path between hockey and figure skating, blending elements of various disciplines, from modern dance, to compulsory lifts and jumps. What remains is a whole new genre that is more akin to the rawness of improvisational street dance. Should you want to unplug yourself from the throngs of Old Town, this could be your golden opportunity.
The show a double-bill broken into halves, another hint at the dualistic makeup of their craft. Borrowed from the naming of the act, you are first influenced by Le Patin Libre, transfixed by the preternatural movement of the group in a way that lingers in your memory. A tight knit group marches onto the ice, their boots projecting in harmony with the low-throb of a soundtrack. Right away, Vertical Influences paints an enigmatic mood of brooding lights and evocative body language. Rather than the bright flash of sequin, we feel the guttural emotions of the dancers as one by one, they break free from the group to showcase their individuality in a solo performance. There is a clear psychology underpinning the act, represented in the diversity of the group and the unique traits each imparts on the show. As for their costume, it is muted, baggy streetwear, again deemphasizing the sticky-sweet of figure skating.
In the second showing, you meet the group on their turf – the ice. Cushions are provided to the huddled crowd and you brace against the daring speed of the skaters as they zoom towards the crowd, veering at the last moment, but not before showering the audience with a shaving of ice. At this vertical angle, everything is more brilliant. You see the whites of their eyes, the otherworldly bending of their collective posture and experience their expression fully. Vertical Influences does a superb job at replacing what we think we know about figure skating with an authentic composite of storytelling, one which lingers in its rebellion.
Assembly at Murrayfield Ice Rink – The Ice Rink (Venue 454)
Until 25 August
Image: Le Patin Libre