Ice Network

ITNY pays tribute to Orlando terror attack victims

Emotional 'Hommage' piece finds new meaning in company's performance
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Skaters with the Ice Theatre of New York perform at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers. -Philip Tsai

When Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY) performed "Hommage" at New York's Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers on Thursday evening, the skaters and audience shared a sad case of déjà vu.

The ensemble piece was created by Florentine Houdiniére, a former French junior champion, to honor those lost in the terrorist attacks in Paris last November. Yet each time ITNY performs the piece, it must acknowledge and mourn a new tragedy.

In March, the company performed "Hommage" at Rockefeller Center the day after bombings in Brussels, Belgium, took 32 lives. Thursday's performance honored the 49 people killed June 12 during an attack on an Orlando nightclub.

"Every time we perform this piece, we plan it ahead, and then something happens right before we have to perform," said Elisa Angeli, the ITNY ensemble director.

"When we heard about the Orlando attack, we were shocked. It makes us think about the piece even more."

In "Hommage," two groups of skaters -- some in black, others wearing brightly colored shirts -- skate to Yann Tiersen's "Comptine d'un autre été (Nursery rhyme of another summer)" from the Amelié soundtrack. Skaters in black are survivors; those in color have died.

"The [skaters in color] are trying to fight, but in the end they have to leave this world, and the survivors can only be spectators," Angeli said. "This week, we cried all the time, even in rehearsals. It was so emotional. We forgot the skating part of it."

Houdiniére videotaped a message to the ITNY skaters prior to Thursday's performance, urging them to carry the message of love and peace.

"I am sad to say that what happened at Pulse (in Orlando) was similar to what happened in Paris -- people going out to have a good time and ending up in a nightmare," she said. "What makes this piece special is the genuine intention skaters feel in their guts during the performance."

"Hommage" is the kind of performance ITNY founder and director Moira North strives to sponsor and create.

"The (ITNY) skaters don't only want to be virtuosic and pretty and smile -- they are really interested in doing pieces that recognize issues that have social significance," North said. "I want to be in touch with people who are interested in choreographing about our environment, about the world at large.

"A program like 'Hommage' takes the audience to another place," she continued. "It's time for the ice skating world to make statements with their intelligence and their hearts. ITNY wants to move in that direction."

Thursday evening's ITNY: Unplugged wasn't all somber. Canada's Elladj Baldé sizzled in upbeat Michael Jackson and James Brown medleys, although the showman extraordinaire almost missed his entrance.

"My flight (from Montreal) was delayed two hours because of weather," Baldé said. "I landed and right away got into a cab and put my skates on in the cab. When I got here, I just dropped my bags and ran out straight to the ice. Running up the stairs with skates on was a good warmup -- my legs were on fire."

Baldé's disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2016 Canadian Figure Skating Championships left him off Canada's national team, but the 25-year-old isn't ready to call it quits on eligible competition. He is working with choreographer Julie Marcotte on a new free skate for the upcoming season.

"I have been traveling and performing a lot in Israel, Armenia, Poland, New York, North Korea, Russia -- I've been everywhere. It's been fun," Baldé said. "I wasn't sure if I still wanted to compete, but I still have my dreams of the Olympics, so I'm giving it another shot."

Baldé began last season in stunning fashion, winning Nebelhorn Trophy with a total score that surpassed his previous personal best by more than 30 points. Duplicating his fine international performances at the Canadian championships has proven elusive.

"If I had skated at nationals anything like I did at Nebelhorn, I would be top three," he said. "I can compete with Nam [Nguyen], Liam [Firus], Nicolas [Nadeau]. I have my demons when it comes to nationals. Olympic year (2014) I was fourth, and that was tough for me, and I still haven't let that go. I have to come to nationals free of any disturbance or anxiety."

Baldé's exuberance was balanced by former U.S. competitor Mauro Bruni's quietly elegant program to Claude Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun" and Sally Jeanne Watkins' performance to Puccini's joyous "O mio babbino caro," choreographed by Douglas Webster. 

Charlotte Hughes Parker, the 5-year-old niece of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, closed the show by shimmying to Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."

"I asked her what we were going to see in her performance today, and she told me we were going to have to wait and watch her performance," Aunt Sarah shared.