An article from www.globeandmail.com, Friday, November 29, 2002
Not just a skater boy
by BEVERLY SMITH
In Gotta Skate, Kurt Browning's latest skating-show-turned-television
special, you don't necessarily have to skate.
You gotta dance, modern dance, ballet if possible. You gotta sing the
MTV tunes. You gotta sproing around the ice on antigravity contraptions
that have no blades and defy logic. Isn't ice slippery?
Nobody knows how slippery ice is better than Kurt Browning, a four-time
world figure skating champion and three-time world professional
champion. Although he's been retired from the Olympic scene for eight
years, Browning is still revered in skating circles as the guy who can
carry off any mood or style on the ice, who can set people on the edge
of their seats with his spine-tingling, flying footwork and who proved
long ago that a gregarious small-town boy from Alberta can make it big
on the international scene and marry a ballerina.
He's revered enough, still, that almost 9,000 people showed up to watch
the taping of Gotta Skate at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton a month ago.
Gotta Skate is Browning's fifth special, the fourth one (also called
Gotta Skate) was a trip into Browning's past, in which he hauled out
themes that made him famous: Singin' in the Rain and Casablanca.While
the first Gotta Skate tells the story of who Browning was, this latest
one shows what the 36-year-old has become: a creative young man willing
to take charge of his future, leaving hints that he can do something
else when the blades get dull.
While renowned U.S. choreographer Lea Ann Miller designed the show,
Browning did far more than just show up and take direction. Miller was
the perfect foil, trying hard to incorporate Browning's ideas.I wonder
sometimes why I'm working so hard, because I don't have to, Browning
says. But I really want to learn this stuff and maybe make it part of my
future. And she is willing to let that happen. I feel like I'm taking
ownership of my show.
For example, it was Browning's suggestion to shed the plan that he skate
a solo performance to the Edwin and the Pressure song Alive, music that
particularly touched him after the death of his mother, Neva. Because
the song was almost six minutes long - too long for a solo - Browning
suggested it become part of the show's finale, performed by the entire
cast. Also, Browning created much of the choreography of the group
numbers in Gotta Skate and he is also showing promise as a
choreographer, having designed the short program of world bronze
medalist Takeshi Honda of Japan for this season.
Browning also dreamed up
the idea of using slick, a plastic material with an oily substance on
the surface, to allow skaters another exit from the ice surface, rather
than the black-curtained tunnel seen at most skating shows. Because
skate blades can glide over slick, Browning was able to break the
boundary between the ice surface and a stage, usually inhabited only by
live singers and dancers.
Live music has long been a part of skating shows, but over the past
decade, dancing (without blades) on a stage overlooking the ice surface
has become a growing phenomenon. Gotta Skate (One) is a prime example of
this. Gotta Skate (Two) takes the trends a step further. There is ballet
on stage, figure skaters on stage via slick, and bizarre acrobatic
modern dancers, sometimes wearing antigravity boots, bouncing around
just about anywhere.
I was more scared when they were up on the stage, because the stage is
so small, Browning says of his friends, AntiGravity, that he met while
performing at the closing ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Games last
February. But they had incredible control.
On ice, they get a grip by fixing screws to the bottom of their
The concept behind Gotta Skate (Two) is to present the elements in
Browning's life that affect his skating. Music does. So he invited
Canadian-born singers Edwin and the Pressure and Juno-award winning
pop-soul vocalist Deborah Cox to perform.
Also, being married to Sonia Rodriguez, principal ballerina for the
National Ballet of Canada, ballet is a part of his life, too, and
Browning hasn't been averse to using ballet choreographers for some of
his programs in the past.
Although Gotta Skate is aimed at a hip, young audience, Rodriguez brings
a completely different element to it, especially when she performs a pas
de deux from Swan Lake on stage with Aleksandar Antonijevic, also a
principal dancer at the National Ballet. You can't get much more ballet
than Swan Lake, Browning says.
Echoing the theme in a humorous vein is U.S. skating star Scott
Hamilton, who performs Don Quixote in tights on ice, showing his ballet
talents, which may be questionable. He is joined by a cast of well-known
skaters, including Canadian stars Brian Orser, Josee Chouinard and
Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, as well as two-time Olympic champion
Chen Lu of China, British champion Steven Cousins and Russian Olympic
champion pair skaters Elena Berezhnaia and Anton Sikharulidze, who turn
up in the show, intriguingly portraying Elvis Presley and Marilyn