If you haven't heard of Le Patin Libre yet, now is the time to check them out. They are quietly shaking up the skating world by creating their very own underground world of show skating. A mix of alternative lifestyles and thinking outside of the box, the artists of Le Patin Libre are making some amazing frozen waves. Pensive audience members are left to reflect on their unique live performances that can inspire any skater to find their very own niche in the sport. They are here to prove a point: your days of skating don't have to end as soon as your competition days are over. Their dedication and raw belief in their own on-ice creations is so pure they don't even feel the need to convince others to believe in what they are doing. They know it's right for them.
Could you please introduce Le Patin Libre to our readers?
Alex: Le Patin Libre is a contemporary ice skating company from Montréal, in Canada. We are completely unknown in the figure skating world, but we do about 150 shows per year, mostly for international contemporary dance festivals. Our skaters are Pascale Jodoin, Jasmin Boivin, Taylor Dilley, Samory Ba and myself, Alexandre Hamel. Our style mixes the virtuosity of figure skating with the processes of contemporary dance: long research, questionning everything, lots of experimentation. We feel like what we do is an art form. It is poetic and about self-expression, only. It is impossible to judge or evaluate with a point system. Our shows can only be judged subjectively, which means "with emotions". We propose it as it is. You can like it or not, be moved or not... that's it!
How was Le Patin Libre created?
Alex: After my competitive career as a figure skater and a short pro career in Disney On Ice and other traditional ice shows, I felt like I still wanted to skate. However, I wanted to do it my way, away from the strict demands of competitions and commercial show-business. So, I started a little skating band, with a few friends I was training within elite figure skating schools in Canada. We were all on the "alternative" side. We were very inspired by the freedom and creativity of urban dances and contemporary dance. We wanted to show that figure skaters could also do clever, cool and innovative stuff. Our first shows were done outdoors, on frozen ponds. We literally did the equivalent of street performances, during the winter carnivals organized in small cities of Quebec. It was a very modest and cold beginning!
What does the name 'Le Patin Libre' mean and why was it chosen as the name of your group?
Alex: It means "The Liberated Skate". I let you figure out why...
What is the purpose of your group?
Alex: We are striving to create works of art that blows people's minds. So, yes we like our shows to be beautiful and impressive, but that is secondary. Our shows question the world as we know it. That's what art does. In Vertical Influences, which we will perform in the USA a few times in the next year or two, we are questionning how an individual can trully be herself or himself, even within a group. I could not answer that question with words, but I think our choreography proposes a vibrant answer.
Alexandre Hamel: "To fund the first show of this collective, he used a bunch of credit cards to rent a palace in London where there is an ice rink. If this show would not have worked, he doesn't even know about the problems he would have faced. But, you know, risk is a very strong motivator..."
What is the impact you would like Le Patin Libre to have on the ice skating community?
Alex: I dream of many other skaters discovering this approach so full of freedom and joy. Then, they could form companies and start to propose work as we do. I think it is just starting to happen! I am overjoyed by it, but I stay away because every artist has to find her or his own way.
What is your favorite skating piece you have performed?
My favorite piece is Threshold. It's our most recent creation. It is extremely challenging physically and choreographically. It took us 4 years to choreograph it! Here's a short trailer showing 15 seconds of it...
What message does Le Patin Libre want to send to aspiring skaters?
Alex: Traditional figure skating is great. Truly one of the most admirable athletic disciplines. However, just as contemporary dance emerged from traditional ballet, something new is now emerging from figure skating. Both can live side by side and even help each other.
Pascale Jodoin: "She is the only woman of the collective. She's definitely not your typical ice princess! She spends her life touring with a bunch of guys. She's also our truck driver".
What makes Le Patin Libre unique or different from other skating groups?
Alex: We are alternative types, as most dedicated artists are. We quit everything to dedicate full time to this project. We abandoned careers in professional skating and coaching. We also abandoned normal careers allowing for normal living standard. We did live in squats, small shared appartements and vans. In fact, we still do! This might sound horrible to some people. But, to me, this is part of being free and able to take risks. I absolutely love it!
What is your creative process when creating an artistic skating project for an audience?
Alex: First, we do lots of research. For our last show Threshold, it took us about 2 years.We showed those to our dramaturge, Ruth Little. In collaboration with her, we defined the ideas that kept coming back in all our choreographic attempts. They were all about change, about switching drastically from one state to the other. They were about separation between opposing states. So, this became the central idea of our show to be: change, opposing states and the grey zone between black and white. With this in mind, we worked another 2 years on weaving an abstract story using our choreographic attempts as material. In my mind, this abstract story goes like this: a bunch of people have a very intense life leading them to a big catastrophe. It forces them to change into something new. Some members of the group become different from the others; the group has to evolve toward a new balance. In the end, the group finds this new balance and a new peaceful vibe. Sounds weird, maybe... I know some spectators see something very different. That's one of the pleasures of contemporary art: both the artists and the audience live something intense making your brain and heart rev in high gear, but this experience changes a lot from an individual to the other. We can chat about it after show...
Samory Ba: "He's the only one not from Canada. He's French. He was doing shows on little ice rinks on cruise ships before he joined us."
What are your dream collaborations for future artistic projects?
Alex: First, we keep collaborating with each other. We all share the choreographic process. One of our skaters, also a classical and electronic musician, also creates all the music. We work with Ruth Little, an extremely interesting intellectual and dramaturg from London. She has a huge influence on us and became part of our little family. We hire lighting designers to create the lighting of our shows. We spend up to a week just programming very subtle lighting changes that audiences do not even remark, sometimes. Finally, we started to collaborate with contemporary dance choreographers very recently. I do not know where this will bring us but we are learning a lot.
Jasmin Boivin: "He's the weirdo. He never figure skated. He learnt by himself, on hockey skates. His style is like a new urban form of ice skating and he integrates beautifully to our creations."
How do you see the future of figure skating?
Alex: Figure skating will always be great and popular. It is athletical, sensual, exciting and awesome on TV. There will always be ice shows. However, the cost of electricity in going up and indoor rinks are refrigerated with electricity. We started to work on a solution: splitting the bill with more people! This is why we constantly make efforts to invite lots of different people to our shows, workshops and events.
What are some obstacles your group has had to overcome?
Alex: Sometimes, people from the world of ice sports saw us as something bad. It is true that when our presenters rent the rink to organize our shows, some hockey games are post-poned and some training ice time is cancelled. I understand the frustration of some people... However, recently, people in the ice sport world started to see that it was worth it. When we bring 300 people to watch our show, they suddenly want to skate! Many of them didn't even know about the rink. We also make it such that local medias talk about ice skating. All this is good to make sure that ice sport clubs keep growing and attracting new recruits.
Taylor Dilley: "He didn't only do ice dancing competition. He also competed internationally in martial arts. He has 2 world titles!"
What shows are currently on tour? How do the live audiences react to your shows?
Alex: We are touring 3 different shows: Glide, Vertical Influences and Threshold. We are invited by contemporary dance festivals. Most of the contemporary dance people never saw a skating show. So, they are really impressed. However, in contemporary dance, people never clap or scream during shows. They are very silent, as people are when they go see classical orchestras. They only clap at the end. Often, figure skating fans come and see us, so they clap during the show, when we do the technical moves connaisseurs recognize. It surprises the contemporary dance people! I like the fact that our shows bring together people who do not mingle usually.
What is unique about your shows?
Alex: Our shows are more modest than usual ice shows. We wear normal clothes, our lighting is minimalistic, some moments are performed in silence. This allows us to center all the attention on the beauty of skating.
Where can our readers connect with you and Le Patin Libre?
Our website: www.lepatinlibre.com
Curious people can easily get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
We often give workshops. Sometimes, they are for total beginners. Sometimes, they are for very advanced skaters interested by our choreographic technique.