Skating artist Alexandre Hamel previews Le Patin Libre’s ‘Threshold al fresco’ at NYC’s Winter Village at Bryant Park

In 2005, Alexandre Hamel – a competitive figure skater on the international circuit, provincial champion in his native Canada, and performer with Disney On Ice – founded the Montreal-based company Le Patin Libre (“Free Skating”), with the desire of taking his passion for skating beyond the constraints of traditional competition and show business. As artistic director and choreographer of the company, he remains involved with the creation and performance of a new and current kind of ice-skating, pushing the boundaries with its revolutionary fusion of athleticism, virtuosity, total creative freedom, and focus on the glide technique, in a style that has been called “contemporary dance on ice.”

Alexandre Hamel (right) with Taylor Dilley. Photo by Romain Guilbault.

Le Patin Libre’s initial performances were offered on frozen ponds, during winter carnivals organized by most cities and villages in Québec. On some nights, Hamel and his group rented ice hockey arenas and turned them into wild dancing parties. For the past decade, the company has toured the world, and this month, they will appear for three nights at Bank of America’s Winter Village in Bryant Park to present Threshold al fresco, a shortened version of Le Patin Libre’s full-length show Threshold, the company’s second major work. The special al-fresco version of the internationally celebrated piece will be performed by Hamel and troupe members Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, Taylor Dilley, and Jasmin Boivin, with music by Boivin, lighting by Lucy Carter and Sean Gleason, and special choreographic collaboration by Anne Plamondon.

Le Patin Libre (left to right): Samory Ba, Alexandre Hamel, Taylor Dilley, Jasmin Boivin, and Pascale Jodoin. Photo by Romain Guilbault.

Audiences in NYC can watch the performance for free if they arrive early and stand by the rink. A limited number of seated VIP tickets are also available for purchase, which include a post-show ice-dancing party, meet-and-greet with the artists and choreographers, and free skate rental.

To give our readers a sneak peek at the upcoming performance, Alexandre kindly answered some questions about the development and evolution of his style, the background of the piece, and its presentation in NYC.

What do you enjoy most about art skating versus competitive skating?

Alexandre: This new artistic approach of skating allows skaters to get together and use their mastery of glide to express things: emotions, ideas, point of views, etc. We can become artists and build a new kind of thoughtful and mind-blowing relationship with audiences, just like other artists do. This was impossible within the constraints imposed by competitions, fundraising galas, Christmas specials, and such things. In this new artistic movement, instead of being pinned one against the others, judged and sold, we can collaborate and build works of art that can go far beyond the usual nervous three-minute routines.  It’s incredibly liberating.

Le Patin Libre. Photo by Romain Guilbault.

In Threshold, we wanted to reflect about intensity, virtuosity, and playfulness reaching a catastrophic threshold. Glide allows us slowed down and accelerated movements. In the show, we stretch this intense “limit” moment and spectators dive with us into this second when everything changes.

Can you explain the meaning and style of “Glide” and how you came to develop it in your work?

Glide is the base of everything we do. Instead of imitating dancers, like in figure skating, we focus on the one thing we can do that other artists can’t: go through space (often very, very fast) without walking or even moving our bodies. This is the only exclusive quality of skating. It opens the door to mise-en-scène effects that are impossible in other performing arts. This idea to focus on the exclusive quality of a medium is not new. It’s modernity, just like painters who stopped trying to replicate life, like cameras, and started to make the brush strokes visible or to emphasize the simple beauty of pigments on a flat canvas. Like them and other moderns, we stopped doing “dance on ice,” “theater on ice,” or “circus on ice” and we just glided and skated. Astonishingly, that work of “epuration” (Is this French?  Making something pure . . .) was never done with the medium of ice skating. We feel privileged to rejoice in this new exploration.

Le Patin Libre. Photo by Rolline Laporte.

Is there a specific narrative theme in Threshold al fresco or is it more about setting a mood?

That threshold/limit moment, as I just explained. Glide can stretch and compress time amazingly. We had to do it, to study a story that happens in just a few seconds that we can stretch weirdly. The mood starts with pure joy and intensity; then there’s an accident and we must survive it.

Choreographically, the Threshold process was a moment when our glide technique was well mastered and distilled. So working on the show, we started to be interested in the way bodies react to glide. As an example, a skater can go very, very fast and then turn abruptly. What happens with the body? We studied a lot of the release and the enjoyment of physical forces. People say Threshold looks very authentic, because of that. It doesn’t LOOK authentic. It IS.

Because, in our preceding careers as professional figure skaters, we were always encouraged to control everything perfectly, this release felt great. We love the way it looks. We worked on it for about four years before having this piece really take advantage of it.

Le Patin Libre. Photo by Olivier Brajon.

What are you most looking forward to about playing three nights at Bryant Park?

Passersby will hear strange music (the original score is by cellist Jasmin Boivin, who is also one of the skating artists) and see unusual lighting (designed by Sean Gleason and Lucy Carter, known for her work with the Royal Opera in London, the Paris Opera Ballet, and Wayne McGregor). Many will be curious and stop. The show will be visible to them, so they will also get a glimpse of this weird skating by skaters not looking like figure skaters but skating just as well.

Of course, they will not see the show perfectly and might not have the time to see it all. I know that New Yorkers are busy . . . but I also know the power of art and I think many of them will live something special, even if it is just for a few minutes. They might think again about it, later . . . and this is why I love performing in public spaces. In this era of screens and boredom, I want to surprise people who do not usually go to the theater, and make them feel something unexpected. Bryant Park is the perfect place for this, even if we cannot deploy as we fully deploy, usually, in indoor ice rinks.

Le Patin Libre. Photo by Romain Guilbault.

What do you hope audiences and budding skaters take away from the show?

Budding skaters are important to me. I was one. I know how vulnerable they often are. I know the very conservative universe they grow in. I would like them to understand that they ALL have the potential to do something mind-blowing, even if they don’t look like what competitive or commercial figure skating likes to sell: ‘There are dozens of people doing triple axels on TV, but, only you can express this idea you might have . . .’

All around the world, spectators talk to us about a feeling of liberation when they see us. That’s exactly what we feel, too. It’s the name of the company, after all!

Many thanks, Alexandre, for taking the time to give us a better understanding of your work and intent. I look forward to seeing Le Patin Libre in Bryant Park!

Threshold al fresco plays on February 15, 20, and 21, 2024, starting at 8:30 pm, at Le Patin Libre, performing at Winter Village at Bryant Park, 41st Street at 6th Avenue, NYC. Admission is free for standing spectators; no tickets are required. For VIP seats (priced at $66.63, including fees, a post-show ice-dancing party, meet-and-greet with the artists and choreographer, and free skate rental), go online.

Before you go, you can watch a trailer of the performance below:



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