Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Enduring Appeal of Torvill and Dean
Recently, I was asked why I thought Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean remain so popular, not just in the UK, but all over the world. I've already called them Ice Dance's answer to Ginger and Fred, so my answer lies in this quote:
"To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them." - Charles de Montesquieu
Similar to Ginger and Fred,, who still remain popular, Torvill and Dean, or Jayne and Chris, as they are called, exude an unmistakable aura of greatness yet familiarity that reaches beyond a single art form. Even for those who yawn at the now-familiar idea that ice skating can be a means of artistic expression, they still represent something new. I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Stars on Ice in 1998. As someone who comes from from a dancing family and who appreciates all things dance, I saw two of the finest dancers to move on ice. More than their technical skills, they performed to express their art, never to impress any audience.
For the millions who have seen them in person or via television - during their gold-medal victory in the ice-dance category at the 1984 Olympics, their amateur career routines, their pro routines, their 1994 return to the Olympics and, since 2006, on the UK TV show, Dancing On Ice - the two champions have become identified with more than technical perfection: They re regarded(and I believe justifiably) as ice dancing's greatest artists of all time. Skaters first, Jayne and Chris are also, in the wide sense, actors and dancers. Like Ginger and Fred in 1933, they formed a professional partnership in 1975 that has truly allowed them to work together as one. And they have used that partnership not to seek fame or wealth, but to share their love of ice dance with others, to contribute to the sport that has given them so much enjoyment.
A spectator is as drawn to their faces as to their skates. Eye contact is one aspect of the rapport that distinguishes them from other ice dancers. Imagery lies at the core of every duet Torvill and Dean have created for themselves, and their multifaceted range is evident in the distinct originality of each of their dances.
Ice dancing was not admitted to Olympic competition until 1976 because it was rooted in ballroom forms and not considered athletic enough. Ice dancers are not allowed the multiple spins or air turns required of figure skaters. Nor are they supposed to execute the athletic "throws" or high lifts practiced by those skaters in the pairs category of competition, whose partnered moves are remote from the social dance rhythms at the base of ice dancing.
Too often, however, even competitors in ice dance treat each separate element in their choreography as a trick. Some people do skating moves and jumps without any reason. It is in reaction to this trick-to-trick athleticism in ice skating that Torvill and Dean's style can be understood. There are no isolated moves, no "unlinked elements" in their seamless skating, no empty spaces inbetween. Each beat of music is packed with dramatic gestures, steps and emotion.
Their 1984 Paso Doble OSD is, to me, a model of the thoroughness that goes into their approach to skating. Ironically, few ballroom dancers have captured the essence of the true Paso Doble as well and should study. In this number, they are truly dancers on ice.
The music is taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol," and as both skaters stand at the center of the rink, Jayne clings to Chris's back, a hand draped over his right shoulder from behind. Dressed in a bullfighter's costume, he reaches across his chest as if holding a cape. Then, in a second, this is what Jayne becomes. Winglike sleeves held out, she spins off - flung by her partner.
Among their many professional routines, here are a few that give a glimpse of their creativity and genius.
Song of India, 1984, showcases their creative growth as they moved into the professional world of figure skating. Choreographed jointly between Jayne and Chris together with Graeme Murphy, Artistic Director with the Sydney Dance Company in 1984, there are intricate lifts, twisting, intertwining, and even sitting and rolling on the ice to create a balletic piece evoking Indian sculptures.
Encounter, 1984, remains one their most enduring professional performances, winning them the World Professional Championships in 1984. They resurrected the piece in 1994 to win at the World Team Championships.
The theme of the piece involves two people who walk past reach other in the street, notice each other, do a double take, and instantly fall in love. What follows is a brief encounter of two people very much in love but destined to be apart. It's power lies in its simplicity; you see the story unfold through symbolic walking movements, both towards and away from each other as well as a quiet embrace before they must depart.
Oscar Tango, 1990, which won Jayne and Chris the Professional World Championships, is entirely unique in that the first minute and a half is skated in total silence, in which Jayne and Chris stamp out a series of extremely precise, sharp, and fast tango steps entirely separately from each other, but in complete unison and perfect split-second timing. In the “Story So Far” video released in 1996, Chris explains that “the movements in the silence represent the typical tango, but as the music begins we wanted to express the inner feelings of these two dancers”. However, it could also be interpreted that they are dancing with other partners during the silence (both hold a pose as if miming holding an invisible partner) for whom they feel no connection, only to lose all rigidity when they find each other, experiencing total connection, fluidity of movement, and emotion through dancing with each other.
Unlike many dance choreographers, Torvill and Dean never thought in terms of pure movement. There is always an underlying story in their work, expressed in dramatic terms. There is a picture within whatever the music is saying. And time has not diminished the portraits that have been created. Like all great artists, they continue to appeal to younger generations, each discovering something new in these works of art. Through Dancing on Ice, they serve as role models and mentors, not just for the celebrity contestants who are paired with skating pros, but for many young skaters and those interested in Ice Dancing at its best .Like any artists, they are still explorers, finding new ways to present and enhance their work.
In 1994, Jayne and Chris returned to the Olympic stage as pros were allowed to reinstate. Ten years after their gold medal, they skated to "Face the Music", proving that they were still as sharp as ever as the music changed from slow to fast, a waltz, tango and quick steps, pulling the audience in and making them clap along by the end. They won the bronze medal, apparently losing some points due to a questionable lift, but the judges missed the point - Of the 3 top competing couples, they were the only ones out to express rather than impress.
That is the ultimate magic and enduring appeal of Torvill and Dean. What any viewer can feel, then or now, is the love and passion for their work and the genuine affection and respect for each other and their audiences. They always have chosen to stand with others, never above them. It's worth noting that on Twitter and Facebook, there are fans who span all age groups and countries. It's also worth noting that Bolero made them famous, but their warmth, dedication, and generosity has made them well loved as people, not just skaters.