Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Even at 56, Dean still an innovator

Olympic ice dance champion stays involved through choreography
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Christopher Dean, seen here with partner Jayne Torvill, still stays involved in the sport by helping to choreograph programs for ice dance teams. -Getty Images

We were honored to talk to legend-in-his-own-time Christopher Dean on his 56th birthday last Sunday. Dean, who choreographed so many unforgettable programs for himself and his partner, Jayne Torvill, works with a very limited number of competitive ice dance teams each season. For 2014-15, he worked with just two teams: Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, for whom he has choreographed several times before, and the Korean team of Yura Min and Tim Koleto (see our July 2 column for more).

"It's always nice to work with people that I've worked with in the past," Dean said. "When you know somebody, there's a familiarity; you know how they work, and it bypasses those early stages. You've already created a dialogue. When it's brand new, nobody knows what to expect -- you don't know how far somebody will go. Working with new people is always a discovery as well. It can be quite surprising."

Dean told us his very busy life usually doesn't allow him to work with more skaters.

"It's kind of to do with schedule, really," he said. "It doesn't often fit that I'm around, and I'm not really on everybody's radar, I guess."

Dean's avant-garde choreography inevitably turns heads; he always seems to come up with things we've never seen before. We asked what he draws on to create such original transitions and lifts.

"It's that love-hate thing; it's a personal thing inside," he mused. "I try to be different every time I do something. It's an internal struggle. You want originality from yourself, as well as working for someone. I do some research, I've got some ideas in my head, but I believe that being on the ice and letting the choreography flow from that is more motivating for me."

Like many other choreographers, Dean says that the choreography process usually starts with the music, although he draws inspiration from many sources.

"Generally, I like to get ideas from the people I'm working with: who they are, and what they're listening to," he said. "Once I've discovered the music, you can definitely run with that, get ideas, concepts, big pictures. I love theatrics in all genres, whether it's an exhibition or opening ceremonies. ... just the architecture of the city sometimes. I think everything has a beauty and a structure to it. For me, I think everything comes out in a movement expression."

Given the complexity of the process, Dean likes to work with local teams best. He likes to take plenty of time with a visiting team, using two weeks or more.

"When you're working with someone who's coming in for a short time, you have to have your ducks in a row," he said. "It's nice to be able to spend more time. One of the nice things to do is a workshop -- it becomes a joint exercise. Things evolve, it's ongoing. When people travel in and travel out, it starts somewhere, but it's always going to end up somewhere else. That's the nature of what we do."

Torvill and Dean have been very involved with the British show Dancing on Ice for the past nine years. They announced last year that they would be stepping back from the show, and it ended after its ninth season.

"Jayne and I decided to call it," Dean said. "It's a significant year for us because it's 30 years since [we won] the Olympics. There's a time for everything, and this is the right time. I believe we've left the show in a healthy place. I do believe it might come back in some form. I don't know what that form that is -- maybe with us in a different role, maybe with someone else."

In February, Torvill and Dean recreated "Bolero" in Sarajevo at a new rink to celebrate the anniversary of their iconic Olympic win. Presently, Dean says he's working on a few "one-off" projects, including a documentary with Torvill that he wasn't able to say very much about, other than that it might debut next February.

"We're excited about that, and very challenged at the same time," he said.

In addition, a new book, Our Life On Ice, will be out in time for Christmas.

And with that, we let Dean get back to celebrating his birthday with his sons, Jack and Sam.

"I've got two boys rampaging around in the background here," he said.

Onward

Former pairs partners Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff are both heading to Florida -- for completely different reasons. Speroff and his girlfriend, former U.S. junior pair medalist Kylie Duarte, will be skating together as a pair on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas, starting in September.

"We leave from Florida and cruise all around the Caribbean and Mexico," Duarte told us.
"I'm very excited to do it. Andrew and I wanted to do it together, and I can't believe it's going to happen -- it's surreal."

"I couldn't be more excited about this big change in my life, skating in shows and traveling to these beautiful parts of the world," Speroff added. "It's something I've been thinking about and wanting to do for a long time now. It wasn't easy coming to this decision. ... I'm still very open to the possibility of competing in the future, but I am so happy I get to do this right now and have this amazing time with Kylie."

Duarte mentioned that she and Speroff had filed paperwork to keep their eligibility, in case they want to compete at some point.

Meanwhile, Donlan and Nathan Bartholomay are now training together in Florida, with coach Jim Peterson.

"Though I truly cherished our partnership together, I couldn't be more thrilled for the new and exciting life chapters Andrew and I are about to embark upon!" Donlan texted us. "Now, having found not just one but TWO Prince Charmings, I feel luckier than a Disney princess! I am incredibly excited to train with Nate and extremely grateful for the opportunity to join Mr. Peterson's training camp."

Stormy Monday

A series of violent thunderstorms in Massachusetts left a trail of damage at the Skating Club of Boston on Monday. Flooding on the road in front of the club filled the parking lot with water, which came through the club's doors and even onto the ice. The ice melted along the edges and the pouring water cut channels across it. (Ross Miner tweeted dramatic photos.)

Club president Doug Zeghibe told us Monday that considerable cleanup was underway for the locker room and lobby areas. The skaters and coaches in the building pitched in to help get the water out. The rink was closed Monday; with the cleanup complete, the rink re-opened Tuesday.

"Great to see the speed and determination in which everyone acted," Zeghibe emailed. "But if anyone is doubting the club's need for a new facility, doubt no more!"  

The club is in the process of funding and building a new rink.

Championship baby

2011 U.S. junior bronze medalist Alexander Aiken made a welcome return to competition at the Philadelphia Summer Championships earlier this month. He and his wife, Michelle, are expecting a baby, due Jan. 20 -- plumb in the middle of the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"It could get very interesting!" Aiken said.

Planning ahead

A great cast will take the ice Sept. 20 at the Twin Rinks Ice Center in East Meadow, New York. Ice Dreams stars Jason Brown, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, Gilles and Poirier, Samantha Cesario, Dylan Moscovitch and his new partner, Lubov Iliuschechkina.

Young skaters can sign up to skate in the show by visiting www.icedreamstour.com.

Thanks for reading,

Sarah and Drew
Follow them on Twitter @SarahandDrew

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