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Button, Kerrs grace ITNY's Celebrity Skate 2012

Nobel Laureate Engle glides to victory; ITNY also a hit in Pigeon Fork

Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert Engle with his regular dance partner, Amy Engeler.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Robert Engle with his regular dance partner, Amy Engeler. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(05/22/2012) - As the voice of figure skating in the U.S. for more than half a century, Dick Button has spoken words of wisdom about everyone from Peggy Fleming to Evan Lysacek. But never has he applied any of his patented phrases to a Nobel Laureate.

That changed at Ice Theatre of New York's Spring Fling Celebrity Skate 2012, held last Thursday at New York's Chelsea Piers.

The event paired celebrities -- NY1 morning anchor Pat Kiernan; fashion designer Nicole Miller; and Dr. Robert Engle, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in economics -- with professional partners. A three-judge panel pronounced its verdicts, and audience members cast votes for the routine that inspired them the most.

Engle and former Italian ice dance competitor Elisa Angeli, now a leading member of the ITNY company, won the crowd with an elegant Foxtrot, skated to Frank Sinatra's rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight."

After the two glided to a stop, co-hosts Rebecca Budig, the All My Children actress and winner of ABC's Skating with the Stars reality competition, and ITNY artistic director Douglas Webster turned it over to Button.

"It had everything -- tricky steps, musicality and a relation to your partner, and it really looked as if you were enjoying yourself," Button said. "I'm going to give you a 6.0 and another Nobel Prize."

Engle won his Nobel partly for his ARCH model, which has become a standard market analysis tool. At Celebrity Skate, he and Angeli showed off perfectly arched backs and fine posture in their polished routine, which also drew raves from Button's fellow judges ITNY director Moira North, who founded the company in 1984, and renowned dancer and choreographer David Parsons.

"I'm pretty pleased with the way I skated, actually," said the 69-year-old Engle, a professor of finance at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Asked to compare his victory here to winning academia's highest honor, Engle -- who with regular partner Amy Engeler also won the centennial (age 50 and over) ice dance event at the 2012 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships -- gave a wry laugh.

"Oh, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other," he said.

Engle's competitors also acquitted themselves well. Miller and Ukraine-born Andrew Lavrik, a pairs skater and ice dancer who competed most recently for Mexico, showed off many lifts. Kiernan, an erstwhile hockey player, and former U.S. ice dance medalist Eve Chalom performed a routine to the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" that earned Button's best-known compliment: "That was first rate."

ITNY skaters, including the company's junior troupe, performed ensembles. Guest skaters Sinead Kerr and John Kerr not only skated to fellow Scot Paolo Nutini's jaunty "Pencil Full of Lead," but John acted as Button's stand-in for the dress rehearsal.

"I did all of his shtick -- it was great fun," Kerr said. "Dr. Engle was excellent; he was very elegant. I thought they all did really well. Hopefully, this event continues next season and helps raise more money for ITNY."

Proceeds from Celebrity Skate 2012 will go to ITNY's rehearsal fund to help defray the cost of renting ice. The near sell-out event was just the latest in a series of performances that have put ITNY, the nation's premier ice dance ensemble, front and center in New York City. The company also recently completed the 17th annual New Works & Young Artists Series at the World Ice Arena, offering public school children in Harlem, Washington Heights, the Bronx and Queens the opportunity to watch performances and skate with the company in a free skating clinic.

Those visiting, living or working in midtown Manhattan were treated to the City Skate Series, three midday concerts at Rockefeller Center's iconic ice rink showcasing the works of renowned choreographers, including Parsons, Ann Carlson and Tim May as well as 2003 U.S. novice bronze medalist Tommy Steenberg, winner of the 2011 Young Artists Showcase.

ITNY branched out way beyond the five boroughs when it mounted Dollywood "Christmas on Ice" in Pigeon Fork, Tenn., last November and December. Under Webster's direction, 12 skaters performed four shows a day in a 1,600-seat theatre.

"The skaters in the show were phenomenal; we had a wonderful cast," said Webster, a longtime veteran of Disney on Ice and Holiday on Ice. "The workload was hard, but that's normal in an amusement park show. It was a great opportunity for ITNY, and also a great opportunity for the skaters and for me to direct a show."

As one of the park's most successful shows ever, ITNY will return to Dollywood this year.

North, Webster and the company are also planning the ITNY 2012 Ice Theatre Benefit Gala and Performance for October. This season, they are honoring the great show skater Richard "Mr. Debonair" Dwyer, longtime Ice Follies and Ice Capades star and member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.