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Canada's multi-talented Vipond hears the music

Former competitor balances coaching with acting and singing careers

Lance Vipond plays the poet in the original musical, "Poetry in Motion."
Lance Vipond plays the poet in the original musical, "Poetry in Motion." (courtesy of the National Ice Theatre of Canada)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(07/30/2009) - Three years ago, director Allison MacLean was planning the production of her dreams for the National Ice Theatre of Canada, an ensemble skating company based in Edmonton, Alberta.

"Poetry in Motion" was an original musical play on ice that was performed as part of the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. It followed a young poet as he mused about the comings and goings of patrons and staff at a café on a summer night. The role of the poet required a performer who could skate, act and sing, so MacLean turned to a former rinkmate at the Royal Glenora Club, Lance Vipond, who she felt was the only person truly capable of playing this lead role.

"Before I did the National Ice Theatre of Canada show, I hadn't skated in nearly 10 years. I said no and no for years. Then I decided I would go for it," says Vipond, a former Canadian national team member whose competitive skating career ended at the age of 26 due to a back injury.

Vipond, 37, grew up in Brantford, Ontario and trained with a local coach until he earned a spot on the Canadian team at the world junior championships. Then he moved to Edmonton to train with Jan and Cynthia Ullmark. He competed four times in the senior men's event at the Canadian championships.

"I wasn't a good competitor," he admits. "I didn't have that edge, that fire to compete. I was good technically; artistically, I don't know. Looking back, I would say not so much. I had a classic line. I had a nice, polished look, but, artistically, I didn't really take any chances. There are things that, if I could go back, I would do now. Now I would say I'm more artistic, after having gone to theatre school and performed on stage."

After the back injury abruptly ended his skating career, Vipond wasn't sure what he wanted to do next. He'd always had an interest in acting, and he'd secretly been writing songs since he was 13, although he hadn't had the courage to play them publicly. He decided to attend Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, where he immersed himself in a conservatory-style program. After college, he went to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in England for a semester.

"[I] decided while I was there that I was ready to start going out and auditioning, and that's what I did as soon as I got home," Vipond says. "I started working right away in Edmonton and pretty much worked for five years straight. They have a really great theatre scene in Edmonton."

He also started doing skating choreography and soon found success. When he decided he didn't want to continue performing in musical theatre, he soon found skating choreography consuming his time. He choreographed for most of the top skaters in Alberta, including Natasha Purich and Kaetlyn Osmond, the 2009 Canadian ladies pre-novice and novice champions, respectively. He has also choreographed for Vaughn Chipeur and Joey Russell, and he did two programs for Jamie Salé and David Pelletier that they performed on the TV special, Holiday Festival on Ice.

After his appearances with National Ice Theatre of Canada, Vipond was contacted by Frank D'Agostino, creator of the show Cold as Ice, which starred Oksana Baiul. Originally, D'Agostino had envisioned a show where the skaters also acted and sang, which excited Vipond. Although the production evolved into separate casts performing the skating and acting parts, Vipond stayed on. He enjoyed it but said those were his final skating performances.

Feeling a little burned out by working 12-hour days six days a week as a skating choreographer, Vipond decided to move back home to Brantford last year. He had planned to go back to school or to pursue acting work other than musical theatre, but he has found himself coaching in Brantford and Waterloo, where he now has quite a few students.

In addition to coaching, Vipond has been doing singing gigs around Brantford with his cousin, an excellent guitarist. Vipond recorded a CD in 2005, which he's putting the finishing touches on and hopes to officially release someday. In the mean time, you can hear his music at www.myspace.com/lancevipondmusic.

He's also thinking about a return to theatre or pursuing film work.

"I'd like to get into maybe television with a dramatic series or even comedy," he says. "I think you can act at any age."

He is also trying to instill in his students the things he learned performing off the ice, skills he wishes he'd had as a young skater.

"I didn't really know what performing was back then," he says. "Skating is very insular. I try to bring that to my skaters. Bring out their inner artist as best I can and get them to start learning how to express themselves at a really young age."