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An article from www.globeandmail.com, Friday, November 29, 2002

Not just a skater boy

by BEVERLY SMITH

Globe Television

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 footgear.

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 Monroe.