Bring On The Men: Men Skating Through The Next Ice Age

If you haven't heard of Linda Eder... here, let me help you get that rock you've been living under off of you. There, that's better, isn't it? In all seriousness though, Linda Eder's this powerhouse of a singer and I actually used to perform a lot of her music in my 'past life' as a drag queen. From her stunning cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to her knock-your-socks-off rendition of "I Am What I Am", she's kind of got it going on. She's well known for her killer interpretation of "Bring On The Men" from "Jekyll And Hyde"... a song I actually probably performed myself in well over a hundred shows. I shit you not. At any rate, bringing on the men is ALWAYS a fabulous idea in my opinion... and Nathan Birch and Tim Murphy of The Next Ice Age are doing exactly that in their newest venture Men Skating. Men Skating uniquely brings together an all male cast of exceptional artists for ensemble skating of the first quality. The debut show today in Maryland is a private, invitation only event and will feature the likes of Rohene Ward, Ryan Bradley, John Kerr, Wesley Campbell, Jonathon Hunt and Shaun Rogers. Nathan and Tim were kind enough to open up about the concept behind Men Skating and what to expect from this exceptional meeting of the minds on the ice.

"Years ago when I was focussing on choreography for national and international competitors, I wound up working with a lot of male figure skaters such as Parker Pennington, Scott Smith, Brent Bommentre and Michael Solonoski," explained Nathan. "I used to think how fun it would be to combine their talents together in an ensemble cast. Recently, former students Ryan Bradley, Jonathon Hunt and Shaun Rogers were all available during a specific time window. Wesley Campbell had done some of our master classes, so I was familiar with his elegant skating. I have admired Rohene Ward both as a skater and a choreographer for some time, and I am fascinated as to how easily he can perform difficult maneuvers in both directions. I have also admired John Kerr as a skater and choreographer. He and his sister Sinead are a wonderful dance team, but when he performed a solo at The Michael Weiss Foundation, I was floored by his skills. Each of these athletic artists have partnering and solo skills that can be showcased in formats well beyond the usual four minutes. As we are at the very beginning of Men Skating, it is important to note that there are many more great male skaters we would like to include in the future. I admire all skaters, but considering the positive feedback surrounding this launch, I think others find the concept appealing as well. Choreography for all men is not original, but an entire skating show with only men hasn't been done before to the best of my knowledge, so we're going to give it our best shot!"

Those of you who read the September 2013 Skate Guard interview with Nathan will know that he is a former member of John Curry's Company and The Next Ice Age's work has continued to very much carry on Curry's vision. Nathan explained "John Curry built an all male quartet for The Next Ice Age in the early nineties. It was also his last ensemble dance, which is significant in itself. 'On The Beautiful Blue Danube' was originally performed by John, Tim, myself and Shaun McGill. We presented it a few times with different skaters over the years, so the official first dance of Men Skating is already done! In 1933 'Ted Shawn And His Men Dancers' debuted in Boston, making history, after laying important ground work at Jacob's Pillow in the Berkshires. Tim and I are from the Boston area originally, and we still have many connections there, so it seems we are being handed a baton from above, so to speak. It sounds crazy, but I can hear Ted and John saying 'Go ahead Tim and Nate. Do this for skating.'"

I asked Nathan specifically about 'Javelin', a new piece created specifically for Men Skating. "The music, composed by Michael Torke, is surprising, percussive, strong and really American sounding in the way Bernstein helped define the genre. It is big, sweeping and contemporary, and when I was contemplating Men Skating, I thought the opening had to reflect these attributes." At the time of this interview, Nathan, Tim and the skaters were set to begin rehearsals in a matter of days for today's taping. Nathan expressed that "while things may change, I feel the dance is going to be about brotherhood. The six guys coming to Baltimore have all been friends for well over a decade, so they are a brotherhood already. This idea can be expanded to the larger community of male skaters. Each of us share a kinship, whether we turned out as gypsies, teachers or champions. Each of us share an understanding of what it was like growing up as a figure skater. It is an unspoken respect that requires nothing other than quiet acknowledgement. This bond - this brotherhood - is something we can all share equally without dogma, judgement, or fear. Technically, the dance will reflect the music. Percussive sections will feature quick short steps that will juxtapose with the more lyrical passages that cry out for long glides and extensions. There will also be jumps, spins, lifts and other physical pyrotechnics. None of these skaters have an arsenal of tricks that is half full. They of course wonʼt all go into this one piece, for reasons of balance, but beauty - paired with muscle - should serve 'Javelin' well. We first met Michael Torke in 1997 when he came to the final rehearsal of Timʼs 'Bright Blue Skating' (set to his piece 'Bright Blue Music') at The Kennedy Center. We were huge fans of his music long before we met the man we consider to be a friend today. He also came to my premier of his 'Book Of Proverbs' at The Columbia Festival Of The Arts, and Tim restaged 'Bright Blue' for The American Dance Festival. So this marks the 4th time we have used Michaelʼs glorious, optimistic, and emotional music."

One thing I really was curious about was the long term vision of this project. Nathan sees "this as a commercially viable entity. The title says what it is, so that should help with promotion and advertising. We will probably rotate skaters in and out, depending on scheduling. Also, I want to use other skating choreographers. There are so many good ones! John Curry said many times that the best skating choreography in the future may come from the skaters themselves. With The Next Ice Age, Tim and I have presented our own work with few exceptions, but we want Men Skating to be different. Our vision is for it to present many points of view by choreographers with a skating background." From a long term perspective, Nathan and Tim want to give back: "There will also be a charitable arm to this project focussing on menʼs health issues. I got to share that with Tenley Albright and she got really excited. She said she was at a conference on women's health not long ago, and someone chimed in 'Why does no one ever talk about menʼs health'? I really admire the work Scott Hamilton does in Cleveland with his C.A.R.E.S. initiative. Many other luminaries in skating support similarly deserving causes and I applaud them all. If it takes off, Men Skating can be a platform for men's health, which encompasses so many issues and affects our society in profound ways. So you see, this is much larger to me than an ice show concept."

Personally, I have to say... I think this is just fantastic. It's fresh, it's new and it's exciting. With all of the hype around the Grand Prix events right now, it's refreshing to see something completely different that has nothing to do with upgrades, downgrades, levels or points on the table that is placing the value of skating's artistry as the main dish on the menu. You know, I may be up in Nova Scotia and literally just so geographically removed from all of the incredible things like this that are going on but if there's one thing I've learned from coming back to the sport after so many years away and writing about it, it's that if you can find a voice, use it. The good that will come of that far outweighs the bad. The good that will come from Men Skating is going to be - in my humble opinion - immeasurable.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":