Roca continues to display magic touch

Choreographer provides direction that leads to reality show success

Renée Roca choreographed programs for Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier.
Renée Roca choreographed programs for Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier. (Sean Rice)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(11/15/2011) - With Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier hoisting the trophy for season three of Battle of the Blades, choreographer Renée Roca's winning streak remains intact: Teams for whom she choreographed on reality television competition shows have won in three countries.

"I don't even try to predict," Roca said before the finale. "I don't know what's going to happen in the end. I can't even begin to guess, and I don't want to. It's out of my hands at a certain point when the public jumps on board."

Before it leaves her hands, Roca crafts elegant and often daring programs that showcase the strengths of the skaters. Her winning streak began on the FOX show Skating with Celebrities, continued with Katarina Witt's German production of Stars Auf Eis and first graced Battle of the Blades in 2009, when she choreographed for the winners, Jamie Salé and Craig Simpson.

Roca admitted the creative process on a reality competition show is demanding.

"Once the train leaves the station, it does not stop," she said. "I think the hardest thing is trying to come up with new tricks while their bodies are getting more and more tired. There's no day off in sight. It's putting one foot in front of the other. For me, that's the biggest challenge because their bodies don't get enough time to rest and then be fresh to try and learn something new.

"Part of it is you're trying to be creative and be original. The other part is we have to be realistic."

She said the match of male hockey players and female figure skaters is sort of a natural -- big guys with surprisingly sensitive personalities paired with lovely figure skaters that they delight in showing off. All the guys experience an array of aches and pains, but they all gain a new respect for the sport of figure skating and its athleticism.

The challenge for Bonhomme, the first female hockey player to participate in the show, and Pelletier was obviously a bit different. Bonhomme felt she was being compared to the female figure skaters.

"Tessa is beautiful," Roca said. "She has a lovely figure. So, can we put a dress on her? Yes, it looks fabulous. She's one of these people who's a perfectionist. She'll do something 500 times. We're like, 'Can we stop at 300?'

"She's a force and very brave, I must say," Roca added. "For somebody who's never been put six or seven feet over the ice above somebody's head gliding with speed in spotlights, what she's done is really courageous."

This season, Roca also choreographed for Elena Berezhnaya and Curtis Leschyshyn, who made it to the semifinals last week. Roca appreciates how hard all the participants work and how open they are to her suggestions. She also enjoys interacting with the other choreographers.

"It's a good group," she said. "We're all around each other at some point during the day, so it's always, 'Oh, my aches and pains.' We sort of gripe to each other, and we laugh with each other."

Last year, Roca choreographed the ensemble routines for Smucker's Stars on Ice, but her work with Battle of the Blades made it impossible for her to do that again this year. She is leaving straight from Toronto to work on the Brian Boitano Skating Spectacular, which tapes Nov. 20 in South Bend, Ind., and airs on NBC on Dec. 18.

"I like to be able to have a foot in different rooms," Roca said. "I like being able to do Brian's holiday special. I like being able to do these kind of reality things. I like being able to do tours like Stars. Each project is a unique challenge. I feel like I get a really good variety and it's never boring. It's all a big learning curve."

Just to keep life extra interesting, Roca has been renovating her Los Angeles home with the help of fellow Battle of the Blades choreographer Michael Seibert, whose expertise and experience in interior design she greatly appreciates. She said phase one is done and phase two will commence in 2012.

In addition to shows and tours, Roca also does some individual choreography. This season, she worked with Canadian senior men's competitor Elladj Balde.

Before heading off to her next project, Roca will take a moment to savor the great performances that marked season three of Battle of the Blades.

"Sometimes magic does happen," she said. "It's always nice to see that. You're so happy for the competitors. You know how much they've worked. When something goes so nicely, you almost want to cry because you're so happy for them."